Friday, November 14, 2014

Be Kind Without Strings

My blog, my thoughts. 
Pay it forward. 

Random acts of kindness. 

Unless you have lived in a wifi-proof cave for the past few years, you've heard the stories. The Starbucks line that went on for hours, each customer buying coffee for the person behind them, the guest that leaves a $1,000 tip on a buck cup of coffee so the waitress can fulfill her lifelong dream to backpack through Europe. The community that came together to build a house for a family that lost theirs to a fire.

I firmly believe that people want to do good things for others; some people may have selfish or have sketchy motives, but I'm ok with that. The public pressure to "do good" may form a habit or change minds...or at the very least, encourage someone else to participate in a positive action. 

Let's say you buy coffee for the next ten people. Maybe one guy at the coffee shop gleefully took your gift of a free coffee and then told a coworker what a sucker you were. Fine. But maybe that coworker told her daughter about the small act of generosity gifted to a stranger and then that little rug rat decides instead of toys for her birthday, she wants friends and family to buy gifts for the local animal shelter. You never know how one small gesture on your part can impact the community around you. 

Along that thought, I want to propose something radical. This may honk some folks off, but stay with me for a second.

The next time you go out and the cashier says that your coffee is free or a secret santa paid for your layaway, here is what I want you to do...accept the gesture, say thank you and let them be nice to you.

Let that sink in for a second.

On your way to pick up the kids at practice, you buzz through the drive thru and you are told your coffee is free. Say "thank you" and drive off.

Later on, pay it forward and do something nice for someone else, be a little crazy and do something special for two or three other people. Make it your own. Your way to pay it forward might be buying tacos for the office. Maybe it is finally cleaning out your closet and donating all your old suits to a return to work program.  Let the person with 3 items go in front of you at Heinens when you have a full cart. Finally show your uncle how to work the iTunes. Brush the snow off the cars next to yours. Put a quarter in the vending machine (ladies, you know what I'm talking about).

It doesn't have to be all about money. That super awesome barista that remembers your order every morning and tells you, "have a great day!" tell his manager. If it is a chain joint, tell corporate. Trust me, your tweet or Facebook post will be appreciated.   

Be kind without strings. 

One snowy day, I went into my local coffee shop after reading about one of those coffee lines that went on for 8 hours, and I paid for the next 5 coffees. All smug with good intentions, I sat and waited.

I was a giggly school girl when the first person came in for coffee. The little old granny came in and was incredibly confused about the free coffee, but still took it, all the while questioning her friend, "why would anyone do that?"  Two construction workers came in next and took the free coffees without a word. The remaining two coffees went to some one in the drive thru. 

I was crushed.

No one bought anything for anyone else. There was no chain of awesomeness.

As I sat, drinking my hazelnut coffee in full pout, a kooky concept occurred to me. We want to be a part of something awesome, I get that. We want to point to our friends and family that we are good people, and we can prove it because we were a part of some big movement.  But, if someone buys coffee for me, and then I buy coffee for the guy behind me, all I did was buy myself coffee.

Be kind without strings. 

No kind gesture goes unnoticed. With the holidays in front of us, I encourage you all to be considerate of those around you. Try doing something thoughtful or just plain nice for others once a week. Find something you are passionate about and share that. Here is an example - it was important to me to help others in Northeast Ohio find work in my field (nonprofit and marketing), so I started a email listing. I don't get paid for it and I don't know the majority of the peeps following the listing. I would bet that less than ten of the 500 or so following it couldn't pick me out in a line up.

And you know what? That's ok. It is my small way to give back to the community. It costs me a few hours of my time a week.

Whether you knit hats and hand them out to the homeless or you buy pizza for the guys in IT, we can all make a difference with what we have.

I challenge you. How are you going to be kind without strings?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Pumpkin Carving 101

Cats are always boss. 
Halloween is almost here and pumpkins are on sale, making it the perfect time to post a pumpkin carving tutorial.

Here's what you will need:

Spike and my first pumpkin. 
A pumpkin (duh) big enough for your design.  Some folks carve craft pumpkins so they can use them year after year, but I like a real pumpkin. The size is up to you, I went with ones large enough for a design the size of a sheet of paper.

Pumpkin carving tools available at most stores. 
Tools. You can either get a packaged set of carving tools, which work just fine. No judgey pants here if that is the way you want to go. I find it useful for the little saw inside to cut the top off, but that was about it. Much easier than a butcher knife. 
Cheap wood carving tools from Michael's craft store. 
This is the first year I sprung for wood carving tools. It was a 4 buck investment that was well worth it.  Much better than the exacto knife I used in previous years. And, so much less dangerous. 

You will also need a trash can handy to empty out the pumpkin guts, a covering for your work surface (I used a trash bag), a ball point pen, something pointy (push pin, skewer, etc), a metal spoon and your design. 

Brian Hoyer and Cleveland (Photo: ESPN Magazine Instagram)
After you pick out your pumpkins, you need to decide on your design. This year, I made a Cleveland Browns pumpkin, a Cleveland Indians pumpkin, a Cleveland Cavaliers pumpkin, and my alma maters - Iowa State University and University of Akron pumpkins. 

A quick Google search will get you almost any design you want for your pumpkin.  You can also do an image search for black and white logos or pictures to use. 

You can use photoshop and take the color out of your photograph or just use one of the many free online tools. I found a site that turned photos into black and white stencils. 

Now, for the gross part. 

Cut the top of your pumpkin and scrape the guts out. If you are snazzy in the kitchen, cook the pumpkin seeds for a tasty family treat. I'm not so snazzy, so I tossed mine in the trash.

Now,  time for a pumpkin ale. 

Spike with my Brian Hoyer picture and tools. 
Once you have your design, pin it to your pumpkin (it's ok, the pumpkin doesn't mind), and use your sharp tool to poke through the paper leaving a outline of dots on your pumpkin. This is time consuming, but very important. It allows you to carve just about any design you want!

Connect those dots with your ball point pen, shading in areas to be cut out. Using your woodworking tools, start carving away at your shaded areas. If you are carving a face, it may look weird. Don't worry. 

Carved Brian Hoyer Cleveland Browns pumpkin. 
Some folks carve all the way through the pumpkin. I don't because I don't want the icky guts to show through and I'm afraid I will cut something I don't want to and then I will be in the creek of poo with no paddle. 

You will want to carve pretty deep, scraping and shaping your design. If something goes wrong, turn it around. You have another side. Don't stress. It is just a pumpkin. 

My finished Brian Hoyer, Quarterback pumpkin.
This was the finished product. I'm pretty pleased with it. I lit the inside of the pumpkin with flash lights because it was all I had in the house at the time. 

Fear the Roo University of Akron pumpkin. Stencil from the University. 
Here is an example of a stencil provided by the University of Akron. I colored it in with a ball point pen because it can get confusing what you do and do not want to cut. Especially, after a pumpkin ale. 

Finished Fear the Roo pumpkin. So scary. 
I love how this one came out, you can see it from the street! Go Zips!

The start of Jason Kipnis. 
My pumpkin work area can get a little messy. I can't emphasize enough how important it is to put a trash bag down on your table. I recommend keeping your design near, after you have punched through it. Sometimes, the pointy thing doesn't go all the way through the pumpkin and you need to double check which dots connect. 

Finished Cleveland Indians Jason Kipnis pumpkin.
Jason Kipnis turned out pretty awesome as a pumpkin. 

The return of a LeBron James pumpkin.
The example of my LeBron James pumpkin shows that you can change the design up to meet your skills. I wanted to use the instagram picture that LeBron posted to announce his return to Cleveland. The name on his jersey just wasn't coming out for me, so I didn't carve it and left it plain. It is the name on the front, not the back that matters. 

Don't fret if you can't get something exact. It is a pumpkin. It is all cool. Have fun with it. 

Finished Lebron James Cleveland Cavaliers pumpkin. 
Ok, you have your carved masterpiece and now what?

If you live near squirrels, I assure you, those little jerks will try to eat your pumpkin. If you leave your pumpkin to nature, it will turn pretty gross in a week or so. There is all sorts of advice out there on how to keep your pumpkin fresh for a few weeks after you carve it. 

Pumpkin savior, Clorox clean up with bleach.
The best thing I have tried is Clorox Clean-Up with bleach. I sprayed the insides and all over the outside of each pumpkin with this stuff. It keeps away the squirrels and it keeps the pumpkins relatively fresh. 

If you don't want to use bleach, I recommend hot sauce. It won't keep your pumpkin fresh, but I promise, the squirrels will want nothing to do with it!

Good luck on your carving and share in the comments your work!

I can't forget Cy. Go Cyclones!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Book Club - Self-Inflicted Wounds

Jonathan Harris reads. Taken from the Awesome People Reading tumblr. 
Welcome to the book club of one.

If you aren't familiar with the Pierogi Book Club, the rules are simple. I pick a book that I like; it has to be entertaining, thoughtful or interesting. If not, I drop it like it's hot.  Ok, I don't really drop anything, but I do delete the offensive books off my tablet and on to the next one. These books won't end up on your chardonnay swilling friendly neighborhood reading list, but I enjoyed them.

Self-Inflicted Wounds
self-inflicted wound (n): a spectacularly humiliating, and often hilarious, incident entirely of one's own making. 

see also: you did it to yourself.

Aisha Tyler's book, self-inflicted wounds: heartwarming tales of epic humiliation is everything I want in a book. By sharing her memories of events most try to forget, such as trying to use the force not to wet herself are hilarious. I related to the smart nerdy girl that may have been a little too smart and brave for her own good. 

Tyler describes herself as an "African-American comedian/actress/television host/podcaster/gamer/intense lover of pancakes with such a lush and heady surfeit of fine curse words," which, if we are honest with one another, how can you argue with pancakes?

Here is an excerpt that describes a self-inflicted wound much better than I can:
  Sometimes the self-inflicted wound is entirely of your own making, and sometimes others empower or hasten it along, as if adding accelerant to your fast growing pyre of self-immolation. Everyone enjoys a spectacular meltdown, which is why we are so addicted to shows about people who extreme coupon, dress their children up like hookers, or live in a hoarder's paradise of vintage magazines and Ziploc bags of cat poop. It is supremely fun to point and laugh at the foibles of others, and if we can stick out a foot to trip someone into a murky puddle of their own damp mistakes, all the better.  
But in the aftermath of the self-inflicted wound, when you sift through the embers for the arsonist's tool, the propane canister or half-burned lighter, much like the nameless narrator in Fight Club, you discover that Tyler Duren is just a figment of your fractured imagination, that you blew up your own apartment and burned your life to the ground and you've been punching yourself in the face like a idiot the entire time. 
  Don't fight it. Accept it for what it is. You screwed the pooch. All you can do now is try to turn it into a learning experience. 
  Or, at the very least, into a killer story you can tell your friends. 

Tyler takes us through various stages of her life, with chapters titled, The Time I Almost Set Myself On Fire, The Time I Snuck Out of My Home in the Night Like a CBS After-School Special, The Bunny Fiasco, The Time I Fell Asleep on the Patio Furniture at a Birthday Party and The Hot Wasabi and the Infinite Sadness. 

"Self-Inflicted Wounds" is also a segment for her popular (and darn entertaining) podcast, Girl on Guy. She convinces famous people to share a personal story of their own epic humiliation - which shows us that famous people are real people that make the same boneheaded mistakes we all do. 

If you are even slightly nerdy or if the Calvin and Hobbes Raccoon story means anything to you, this is the book for you. As a special treat, pay attention to the footnotes. Those things are the colored sprinkles on a Donut Land donut of deliciousness. This is the first book in a long time that I have read sections over and over just because they were funny. So very, very funny. 

I've found that I learn way more from my mistakes and failures than my successes. Those mistakes are what make a person stronger, albeit while potentially whacking away at the personal medical deductible. Mistakes make great stories. No one wants to hear the valiant  tale of you working all weekend and spending a hour finding that paper jam under knob d. Nope, your friends want to hear the quiver in your voice as you recount the time you had a business trip in Vegas and woke up on a bus with only one shoe and a pocketful of glitter.

In the spirit of sharing personal accounts of crippling embarrassment, here is mine, of which if you look very closely, you can see the physical manifestation of my prideful fall from elementary grace.

Recess at Kidder Elementary in the 70s was a free for all of child mutilating contraptions; from the monkey bars cemented into the black top play ground to the child-tossing merry go round to the flesh-melting metal slide. My choice for that afternoon's play time was the swings, where were positioned over jagged, kid ankle twisting rocks. 

No matter the Generation, be it X, Y or old-timer, kids are always looking for the next great one up. That one thing you can double dog dare another kid to do that will either result in momentary playground fame or a tearful call home to mom, sobs punctuating the real or imagined injury. 

On this playground, there were two sets of swings. The easy ones, with the plastic that wrapped around your butt, hugging you in place, and the more dangerous, hardened plastic swings.  The latter, faded and cracked, were perfect for the jump off. This was a move that kids adore and parents scream when performed. We all did it. You swing as high as you can, trying to go for even with the top bar of the swing set and then you leap off into the air, flying squirrel like with arms stretched out, to the ground below.  

I loved it, and on this particular day, I was a champion. I flew higher and farther into the rocks than any other kid. 

In the playground version of the Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake dance off, I was challenged by a loud mouth little boy that, years later would eat an entire classroom's lunch serving of prunes (that is another story), to see who could fly the highest. I nodded at him, and took his dare, certain I could get one more match in before the bell rang. 

Both of us started to swing, side by side, little legs pumping, while the rest of the class cheered on their champion.  We swung higher and higher, the chains creaking with each pass. My opponent jumped into the air, thinking I was going to as well, he was too proud. He landed with a thud into the rocks below while I kept swinging and laughing. Pumped full of adrenaline and pixie stix, I swung higher, garnering more cheers and applause until I felt I won, and then I let go, gracefully landing in the middle of the other kids. A few rocks tumbling out of the way of my hush puppies.

There were so many kids rooting for me, that I didn't want anyone to be left out, so I turned around to bow to the fans behind me.

And then, the swing came back.


The swing seat cracked into my head, knocking me flat on my back. Kids screamed and scattered as my blood gushed from my eye. All I could see through the fog of my tears was my teacher coming toward me, and not another soul around. I could barely hear her questions of how and why through my wails and sobs. 

My dad picked me up from school and in his dad "rub some dirt on it" fashion took me for ice cream instead of stitches, so I know have a scar on my eyebrow, where the hair never grows quite right.  

What about you? What is your tale of epic humiliation?

Calvin and Hobbes...the Raccoon *sniff*

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Key To The Cure Giveaway

I'm proud to be partnering again with Cleveland Clinic and Saks Fifth Avenue to give away a pair of tickets to their 15th annual shopping event, Key To The Cure. This Cocktail Soiree and Fundraiser at the Saks in Beachwood on October 16, kicks off this weekend shopping event, during which 2% of  store sales will be donated to help fight women's cancers. 

The party, hosted by Jason Nicholas from News Channel 5, features live music, complimentary spa, salon and cosmetic services, exclusive peek at fall fashions, and food and beverage from "Taste of Cleveland" such as Trentina, Ken Stewart's, XO Prime Steak and more!  Of course, there will be outstanding raffle items including a Saks shopping spree with a personal shopper (feel free to win this one for me), airline tickets,  a designer handbag valued at $3,000, gift cards and more!

One of the event's partners, Browns Kicker, Billy Cundiff will also be there. Billy and his wife Nicole, are strong supporters in the fight against women's cancers and have a great foundation, Colleen's Dream, that raises funds to kick Ovarian Cancer. 

Tickets for Key To The Cure are $50 ($25 tax-deductible), and you receive a $25 Saks gift card, and complimentary spa treatments, Taste of Cleveland Cuisine and Cocktails.  You can purchase tickets here. Don't wait for your tickets because the price goes up to $75 on October 9th. 

Last year, almost $30,000 was raised over the course of one weekend to fight women's cancers. Let's beat that this year! 

Want to win a pair of tickets? As usual, it is super easy, so make sure you follow directions. I let the computer pick a winner, so make sure you come back and comment on this post after you complete each task, in a *different* comment. 

1. Follow @CLEkttc and @clevelandchick on Twitter.
2. Leave a comment of encouragement or support for a woman tackling cancer.
3. Tweet the following: "I want to raise $ & awareness for women's cancers w/ @clevelandclinic & @saks w/ tix to #CLEkttc from @clevelandchick"

Winner will be selected Wednesday, October 8, at 6 pm.

Remember, you can tweet once a day, so get to tweeting. But don't do it more than once a day. That will make people angry at both of us. 

Disclaimer:  Cleveland Clinic and Saks Fifth Avenue provided me with a pair of tickets to attend and a pair of tickets to give away. All words are my own and are fueled by my new obsession with coconut water. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Pierogies with Earnest

Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner. Photo: Cleveland Browns.

Ahem...sorry, I'll get to that in a second. 

Twitter is a wonderful thing. It can help you stay connected, promote your business and if you are lucky - meet football legends. 

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in a Twitter conversation with Browns great, Earnest Byner. Byner is one of the all time Browns greats and with teammate Kevin Mack, they were only the third set of team mates in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards. 

The conversation was about pierogies. One thing led to another and the next thing I knew, I was with a couple of friends, meeting Earnest Byner and his wife for pierogies at Market Garden Brewery in Ohio City. 

Earnest Byner's SuperBowl ring from his time with the Redskins.
If you are of a certain age, you remember Byner, Mack, Dixon, Kosar and company and the electricity shooting through the fans that can only be brought about by winning.  This may account for why Browns fans can be a bit fanatical about Byner. 

When I knew Pierogies with Earnest was actually going to happen, I offered to ask Byner questions on behalf of the fans.  Here is a great example of how Clevelanders think of Byner: 

A Facebook question for Earnest. 
I can tell you that Byner and his wife were everything you would hope for them to be. They were friendly, patient, and all around awesome people. 

A few awesome points from our chat:
  • Byner has never been offered a Milkbone, and therefore never consumed one
  • He believes Le'Veon Bell is one of the best Running Backs playing the game today
  • Yoga is not something he practices, but understands the importance of breathing 
  • Byner is still connected to his Browns teammates, and while they may not talk everyday, when they get back together, it is like they never left
  • The connection that the fans, the players and the city had was real and it was awesome
  • Everyone at the table got a good laugh about the Browns fans being the most possessive of players
  • Ronnie Lott was one of the toughest players that Byner played against
  • One of Byner's greatest moments was when he met his idol, Marcus Allen
Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner. 
Then, as if things couldn't be more awesome, Kevin Mack dropped by. 

As the night wrapped up, as a testament to how much Browns fans think of Byner, at the end of our meal, our server at Market Garden told Byner what he means to Browns fans and there was a guy that waited I don't know how long outside the restaurant for him. 

I can't thank Earnest Byner enough for being so cool...all I can say is next time, the pierogies are on me. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Taste of the Browns Giveaway

After the win against da Bears, this giveaway is even more exciting. 

Monday, September 15th is the annual Taste of the Browns, a fundraiser for the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, co-chaired by Super Joe Haden and Judge Dick "Bam Bam" Ambrose at First Energy Stadium.

Taste of the Browns is the major fundraising event for the Food Bank, last year raising more than $175,000 - which helped the Food Bank distribute over 700,000 meals to agencies in 6 counties.


This year’s event features more than 25 of the region’s finest restaurants and chefs, such as Rocco Whalen (Fahrenheit, Rosie and Rocco’s); Zack Bruell (Chinato, Cowell & Hubbard, L'Albatros Brasserie, Parallax, Table 45); Eric Williams (Momocho and El Carnicero); Jeff Jarrett (AMP 150); Sam McNulty (The Market Garden Brewery, Bar Cento, Speakeasy, Nano Brew and Bier Market); Nick Kostis (Pickwick & Frolick) and more.

Not only will there be awesome food, there will be my favorite part of any fundraiser, a silent auction featuring:
  • Joe Haden “favorite things” gift basket 
  • Autographed Brian Hoyer framed photograph
  • Autographed Johnny Manziel authentic football  
  • Autographed Barkevious Mingo authentic jersey 
  • Signed copy of the Draft Day movie script  
  • Southwest Airlines vouchers 
  • Two tickets to the Broadway performance of Wicked in New York City
General admission tickets are available for $175 ($75.00 of which is tax-deductible) or VIP tickets are available for $250 ($150 of which is tax-deductible).

All proceeds benefit the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. Access to the VIP Lounge will include exclusive tastings, access to Cleveland Browns celebrities and a personalized listing in the scrolling Thank You video played during the event. You can purchase tickets here.

The Greater Cleveland Food Bank and the Browns promote the event as a way to tackle hunger in Greater Cleveland. If you follow me, you know I have a thing for kickers, so let's say we want to kick hunger out of Greater Cleveland. No one should go hungry.

No one.

Want to win a pair of tickets? It is super easy. Since it is super easy, make sure you follow directions. I let the computer pick the winner, so make sure you comment on this post after you complete each task, in a *different* comment. 

1.  Follow @CleveFoodbank and @clevelandchick on Twitter.
2.  Like The Greater Cleveland Food Bank on Facebook.
3.  Leave a comment below after checking out the Taste of the Browns event page - what are you most looking forward to - delicious food or awesome auction items?
4.  Follow the Cleveland Food Bank on Instagram.
5.  Tweet the following: "I want to kick hunger out of CLE @CleveFoodbank's #TasteofTheBrowns from @clevelandchick"

Winner will be selected Monday, September 8, at 6 pm.

Remember, you can tweet once a day, so get to tweeting. But don't do it more than once a day. That will make people angry at both of us.

Disclaimer:  I was offered a pair of General Admission tickets to use and a pair to give away to one of you lucky fans. Words are my own and are currently fueled by the adrenaline zooming through my body after my brakes went out on the interstate. Whew.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Autism Speaks Chef Gala Giveaway WINNER

And the winner of the Autism Speaks Chef Gala tickets is mangovino!

She has been notified. 

Thank you all for participating!