5 Things I Love – June 27

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Today I am posting live from NEXT, the 2011 lia sophia conference, in Milwaukee. What a fabulous way to spend my birthday, right? Well, being here for the post it only seemed appropriate that this week’s edition include the 5 things I love about conference…

1. The Jewelry

Not only do we get the new catalog for Fall/Winter, but we also get a chance to see & try on the upcoming styles in person. We even get to bring several styles home to show off to all our friends!

2. The Ladies

I know I’ve said it before, but the ladies of lia sophia are AMAZING and when 4,000 jewelry fans gather from around the country entertaining things are bound to happen. It also gives us a chance to celebrate with all the award achievers, like our own Cheri Willis who was the #1 manager in the country in recruits. Go Cheri!!!

3. The Surprise Announcements

One day in & OMG!!! A rebranding (we’re purple now!), new creative director (Elena Kiam is amazing), new Spanish materials AND the new catalog will start July 11 overlapping the current catalog for 20 days!!!

4. The Speakers

Can I just say Clinton Kelly? He was fabulous last year & came back by popular demand because, well, we love him. We’ve also got the lovely Geena Davis, Go For No & Mikki Williams.

5. The Parties

We eased in with a festive atmosphere at Mo’s last night. Tonight we’ll be rocking our Zone party and tomorrow is the Fashion Soiree!

More to come about the conference in the next few days…

Stewed Venison & Tomatoes

I really wasn’t sure what to call this recipe. I was thinking gumbo, but then I looked it up and it means ‘thickened with okra’. I don’t have anything against okra, but I haven’t had any in the kitchen of late so obviously that wouldn’t work. Feel free to give suggestions if you have a better idea of a classification.

Stewed Venison & Tomatoes

1 1/2 cups diced venison summer sausage
1 small to medium Viadlia onion chopped large
14 oz stewed tomatoes
1 cup water
3/4 cup roasted corn (or one ear cored)

Rinse and chop as necessary. Empty all ingredients into your crockpot and allow to simmer overnight or about 8 hours. My crockpot only has one setting so it would be at whatever the average setting is.

I chose to serve mine over rice which worked quite well, but I plan to experiment with pasta, gnocchi, etc. Also, feel free to add other vegetables and such the first time I made it on the stovetop with chopped zucchini (from the farmer’s market) and it was good as well.

5 Things I Love – June 20

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1. Opal Applique Clutch in Multi

As may become apparent at some point, I have a thing for clutches. Never mind that I rarely am anywhere that I would carry such a thing. This particular clutch is another one that caught my eye in Marie Claire, though it’s much more affordable than Stella McCartney’s.

2. V8 V-Fusion Raspberry Green Tea

As a kid who hated tomatoes growing up I never thought I would want to drink V8, but the combo of green tea and raspberries brings together two things I love for a great, healthy beverage choice.

3. Michigan Awesome

Michigan Awesome is this, well, awesome little company who makes t-shirts for Michiganders at heart who are proud to show it. I’ve got a list of their styles I intend to acquire, the most recent of which being ‘4 Out of 5’ and ‘Michigangster’.

4. Neuro Web Design by Susan Weinschenk

I was first introduced to this book last year when my manager came up one morning and asked if I could read and produce notes on the book for presentation at an afternoon meeting. Thankfully, it’s a really great book which meant I didn’t mind immersing myself completely in it for a few hours or reintroducing myself last month for our design workshop. To me it’s a must read for anyone who works with customers and the web.

5. Bear River Valley Cereal

I stumbled across this brand while perusing Big Lots and am wishing I had stocked up more at the time because not only are they a bagged cereal (so 75% less packing is used) but they’re all natural, whole grains and tasty to boot.

Four Michigan Artists Exhibit at SAC

At some point during my time here in Owosso I ended up on the email list for the Shiawassee Arts Center, which means that periodically I receive invites to opening receptions to their current show. I enjoy art exhibits and it is literally just across the river from me, so I try and make opening receptions as often as I’m able.

Tonight was one of those nights. Now, in the past I’ve never written on here about any of them. I really never thought to, but as I was walking back over the bridge sipping my punch I couldn’t help but think how much I enjoyed this particular show and, that being the case, I really should say something about it.

As you may have caught with the post title, the current show features the work of four pretty local Michigan artists including Rosita Gendernalick, David Giordan, Karan Pinkston and David Raber.

The first artist whose work I encountered was David Raber whose pieces are a mixture of hand-cut paper and painting. They were actually much more intricate than I might have expected reading a description such as the one I just wrote and with the religious/saint oriented theme put me in mind of the icons of the early Byzantine church. Apparently he calls them icons too, so we’re on the same page. Of course, it was also obvious to me that memorizing the saints had not been a part of my religious education. Most of them I recognized as big players but there were a few I had no familiarity with.

In the same room as Raber were the ceramic craftings of Rosita Gendernalik. They were actually spread throughout the exhibit. That just happened to be the first room I saw them in. Her pieces are a type of pottery known as petal pots. Instead of being thrown on a wheel as would be expected of pottery they are made by assembling by hand many, many little petals of clay. They’re quite detailed. Her little bugs are fabulous.

Next, I headed over to the other side where the hour-devours were and there found Karan Pinkston’s work. She paints in a variety of formats, but the pieces I enjoyed most were all done in oil including a great pair of NFS pieces featuring a jaguar and an ocelot. I don’t blame her for wanting to keep them for herself.

The last artist whose work I saw was actually the one who made me get on here and write about the show. I enjoyed the others, but David Giordan’s watercolors are amazing. From afar I thought they were photographs instead of paintings. Oftentimes when I go to an exhibit and see flowers or a botanical theme there is a part of me that goes ‘It’s pretty. I like flowers, but give me something more’. That is not to say that I haven’t photographed my fair share of plants, but it takes a lot to stand out with that material. Girodan does that. He also knows his flowers and it shows.

So, if you happen to be in the area at all now through the end of July and enjoy art I encourage you to stop in and see the show. The Shiawassee Arts Center is located at 206 Curwood Castle Drive in Owosso and is open Tuesday through Sunday, 1-5pm. For more information click the postcard below.

Blueberry Rice Pudding

This isn’t an overly sweet recipe. I usually serve it with ice cream or whipped cream which balances that out, but for a sweeter pudding increase the agave (or sugar if that is used instead).

Blueberry Rice Pudding

2 cups cooked rice
1 cup milk
2 tbsp agave syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup fresh blueberries
2 1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp cloves
Dash each of ginger

Mix together ingredients in a saucepan, cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.

Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Dealing with Choice

Though I didn’t study psychology or neuroscience directly in college, the matter of how our brains work has always been something of great interest. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that the workshop that I led for our office last month on how we decide took a decidedly psychological slant and has led to me becoming an info-glutton on the subject. Don’t be surprised when it arises again in the future.

One of the books that I used as a reference for the workshop was The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. It’s not an incredibly long read at 223 pages, but I found it to be an interesting reflection on the impact of the abundance of choice available to us.

The first two portions of the book, ‘When We Choose’ & ‘How We Choose’, we the ones that I actually used in the workshop. They reference some interesting results of studies that have been done involving small versus large choice sets which reflect that the larger the number of options the harder it is to choose.

You may think that is a ‘duh’ sort of statement, but when you take a moment to look at how we live our lives it can been seen how this isn’t reflected. If you’ve bought a car recently or had to pick a college you know what I mean. For an even more common choice consider lunch hour at work. Almost every day I hear my co-workers debate the merits of various restaurants. Even in our fairly small community there are more than 30 different choices of which they have 5 or so they frequent yet every day it is a process to decide.

That section also covers the difference between ‘pickers’ who just grab & hope and ‘choosers’ who think through the alternatives of their choice. From within the second group there are also ‘maximizers’ who must search out the absolute best of every alternative and the ‘satisficers’ who settle for what is good enough based on their criteria and don’t worry that there might be better.

The bit that really caught my attention and drew me to write a post tonight is actually from the very end of the book. The very last section, which is only 16 pages long, ask the question what to do about choice and the very first point includes this statement:

“To manage the problem of excessive choice, we must decide which choices in our lives really matter and focus our time and energy there, letting other opportunities pass us by.”

When I read that it really struck home with me as it’s something I have been trying to work on in my life over the last few years. In every time management class out there it seems they use the analogy of the big rocks and the sand. If you fill your life with sand and pebbles, the big things never get done, but you have to know what your big rocks are.

Some of our big rocks are intrinsic to who we are as people and easy to identify. For me family and faith are givens. I come from one of those strange families who actually like each other and talk to each other at least a few times a week if not more. We willingly and without compunction added each other on Facebook. My faith has always been a big rock in my life, so much so that I’m not even fully aware of how it impacts my daily life and choices.

I learned the hard way a few years ago that my mental health requires artistic and social involvement, but what does that look like? Community theatre? Taking a painting class? Joining a book club? The options are wide and varied and there simply aren’t enough hours in the day or week for them all. So we have to choose. We have to learn when to say yes and that it’s ok to say no – even to good causes. After all, how much good can you do when you don’t have time to do?

So, as the quote says, we must choose those things which are most important to use and run all those other choices through that filter. It sounds simple to type, but don’t be deceived. It’s not, but living without doing it is harder.

Going back to the book, it’s a really great read. The middle section I skipped is all about regret, the impact of choice on independence vs. community, how the way we deal with it affects our mental well being and the problem of comparisons. I got my copy from the library but you can also find it on Amazon and at other fine book retailers.

5 Things I Love – June 13

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It’s that time of year. Well, it’s actually one of the two in which we find out what pieces are departing from the lia sophia catalog. As always there are the pieces that aren’t too surprising and July always draws a close to the Kiam collection, but there are also always those pieces that we know we’re going to miss. Here are 5 pieces that I’m sad to see leaving…

1. Multi-Strand Hematite

I fell in love with this piece at last year’s conference and knew that I had to have it. In the time since it has become a regular in my jewelry wardrobe and I anticipate that it will continue to be as it transitions from my kit to my personal jewelry box at the end of July.

2. Pave CZ Ring

Another piece that will be finding it’s way to my jewelry box. This has been my go to silver ring for months. In fact, I’m wearing it even now as I type. Dress it up, dress it down – it’s great bling that brings a lot of sparkle without being ostentatious.

3. Amber Dawn

Much prettier in person, this long necklace of quartz & abalone is one of our ‘magic’ necklaces that naturally complement a variety of colors making them flexible to wear with a wide variety of different outfits. Another of these necklaces, Maggie, will be leaving us as well.

4. Buttercup

If you’ve been a visitor of my blog for awhile you may remember that this bracelet made my top 5 favorites from the new catalog last February. Sadly, it is now taking all of it’s retro goodness and leaving us.

5. Jody

If you couldn’t tell by #1 on this week’s list, I’m a fan of the hematite finish. This necklace actually takes the hematite of #1, the pave of #2 and the length of #3 to form a gorgeous glam necklace that dress up a tee or complement a little black dress.

There are a ton of other really great pieces that are leaving as well, which made making this list really difficult and I know that I’ve left things off (Harvest Moon, Herb Garden, Galena…). To see the whole list for yourself, pop over to my lia sophia page and you can download the pdf of all 240+ pieces that will be leaving on July 31st.

5 Layer Mexican Dip

I have made this dip many, many times, but this is the first time I ever switched out store bought salsa for fresh tomatoes, onion, corn and peppers. Be warned, those peppers can be a bit spicy (as anyone at the Memorial Day party can attest).

5 Layer Mexican Dip

8 ounces cream cheese
8 ounces of sour cream
3 medium tomatoes chopped
1/2 onion chopped (approx 3/4 cup)
16 ounces refried beans
1 cob of sweet corn
2 jalapanos
1 1/2 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese

Roast corn and peppers. I did mine in the oven at 350 for about 45 minutes.

Chop tomatoes, onion and peppers. Remove corn from the cob. Mix together and refrigerate overnight. For me the mixture filled a regular (8 ounce) Cool Whip container just about perfectly.

Warm the cream cheese in an 8×8 glass baking dish until it’s spreadable. Mix with sour cream. Smooth flat.

Stir up your refried beans and spread as evenly as possible over the cream cheese/sour cream mixture.

Remove your chopped mixture from the refrigerator and spread evenly over the refried beans. Sprinkle cheese over until covered.

Bake at 325 for 45 minutes or until the cheese has browned. Allow to sit until cooled enough to not scald you and serve with tortilla chips.

I usually try to have some sort of serving picture, but I took this dip to a Memorial Day party and this is all I came back with:

5 Things I Love – June 6

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1. Irish Brown Bread

Every Saturday a very nice gent from the Brighton branch of Great Harvest Bread Company comes up to our farmer’s market and tempts us all with the lovely aroma of fresh bread. Usually I am able to resist, but I actually needed bread last week and got their Irish brown bread on his recommendation. It’s amazing. I’m not usually a huge straight bread person but for this I will actually make toast in the morning.

2. Mumford & Sons’ ‘Sigh No More’

I fell in love with Mumford & Sons the first time I heard ‘Little Lion Man’ on the radio. Buying the album has just solidified this. Obviously I’m not alone since their US tour is sold out.

3. Elephant Ears

Every June Curwood festival rolls around bringing with it a mixture of trepidation, annoyance, bemusement and anticipation. The first two are easily explained by my living right in the middle of it. My parking lot becomes vendor space, loiterers abound for days before and people behave stupidly. The bemusement lies in the watching of said people. Especially when combined with the People of Curwood site, but this is supposed to be about elephant ears. Every year those vendors come bearing them and, I admit it, I can’t resist. Fried batter covered in buttery, cinnamon sugary sweetness? Yes, please. The best vendor at Curwood is the Lutheran Church’s old trailer. Not only do theirs cost $1 less than the others, but you can literally see them roll out the dough before frying it to golden brown perfection. Well worth the wait for a once a year treat.

4. Firefly

The sadly truncated TV series of course. I was in college at the time that it was airing and so only caught a few episodes at the time, but I remember well my family raving about it. A couple of years ago my brother was kind enough to gift me with the season for my birthday and now it’s a mainstay for those times when I decide to actually use my television.

5. Hatch Show Print

I was talking to one of my lia sophia ladies last night who happens to be in Nashville for the Country Music Festival, which reminded me of my favorite place to go when I’m in downtown Nashville – Hatch Show Print shop. Located right on Broadway just a few blocks north of the river, Hatch does amazing handcrafted letterpress posters and has since 1879. There’s a great 8 minute video about the shop from the Smithsonian that you can watch on YouTube.

Creamy Parmesan Asparagus Soup

Initially this was just going to be grilled asparagus with Parmesan & black pepper cream sauce, but at some point in the process I decided that I wanted to make a cream of asparagus soup instead. Never mind that it was over 80 out when I made this, I wanted soup. Besides, I had milk in need of being used up.

Creamy Parmesan Asparagus Soup

1 bundle of asparagus
1 cup shredded Parmesan
4 cups milk
2 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
1 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp nutmeg

Soak asparagus in water for at least 30 minutes. According to the farmer I bought it from this helps unfurl the ends and tenderize. He didn’t know I was going to end up decimating them in a food processor, but it can’t hurt.

Once they’ve soaked, grill them to green tenderness. Being an apartment dweller with no outside space I used my Foreman, but if you have a real grill go for the full out grill experience. Set aside to cool while starting on the soup base.

For the base start out like you would with a white sauce by melting the butter in the bottom of a saucepan. Once the butter is melted mix in the flour until it creates a paste. Add one cup of milk and mix until the paste clumps have dispersed. Add the Parmesan and a few spins of pepper from the grinder along with salt and nutmeg. Simmer.

Once that is set to simmering, slice your asparagus in half and throw it in the food processor with the last cup of milk. Process to the finest you’re able.

Add asparagus to your base. Mix well and simmer for at least 20 minutes. As with any soup, the longer you let it sit (or better yet refrigerate overnight) the more your flavors will co-mingle.