Friday, December 26, 2014

Holidays in Retail Land - Marc's

Marc and one of those darn birds. 

Every Christmas Eve, I have an intense, blinding flashback of my first job. 

My first gig was at Marc's in Southland, and if you have never been there, picture the largest garage sale on Earth.  Weird chotchkies and cookies labeled in Korean mixed in with everyday items were common place. 

Marc's was the perfect place for teen me. The weekend and evening staff was nothing but high school kids, and not a single one was from my hometown.  Keep in mind, this was before cell phones and Facebook. The internet was something your Uncle Fred set up after one too many Miller High Lifes to catch an unsuspecting rodent in the basement. 

It was a weirdly wonderful place, with Marc's mom as my boss. She walked around the store and collected money at the end of the night with birds. Yes, birds. I hated those damn birds. Calling them birds isn't a fair description. Feathered pitbulls with beaks of ninjas is more accurate. If you came near her or the money, they would squawk and peck at you, always going for your eyes. 

Aside from Back To School season, Christmas Eve was the most awful time to work. There was no online shopping, so you had to actually go out into the world to purchase gifts. No gift cards - honest to goodness presents. 

This particular Christmas Eve of my nightmares was especially cold and dreary. When we arrived to work, the parking lot was already full of people waiting to get in. The customers were a mix of last minute frantic shoppers trying to get a bargain on Liz Claiborne Eau de Toilette or lonely people with no plans other than to look for a bargain on aluminum foil.

After a few hours of frantic cash register ringing, I started to feel woozy. Everyone complained about the smell. We all had headaches. There was a gas leak in the store and the managers ran up and down the aisles announcing we had to evacuate immediately. One of the guys was driving the fork lift in the warehouse with the forks up and punctured a gas line. Oopsie. 

Some people ran out of the store, yelling and shouting like they were being chased by the 4th horseman of the apocalypse. We had to forcibly remove other people because they refused to leave empty handed.  They wanted that Prince BatDance cassingle

After we emptied the store, we all went to the Arby's parking lot and waited. And waited. We couldn't go home and had to go back to work once it was safe. Word was passed around that anyone that didn't come back would be fired. 

When we returned to the store, there were still people in the parking lot. Some folks had never left. Those people were angry, cold, hangry and angry. So very, very angry. 

High from gas fumes, we ran around the store for an hour, trying to put away all the items people left all over the store. The place was a disaster area, between panicked customers and emergency personnel. Once we opened the doors, people ran in like it was a race. Some people were grateful. Some swore that we ruined Christmas. 

Some came in looking for a chicken pot pie for dinner. 

Working retail, you gain a keen understanding of people. You see the good and the cranky. If there was one thing that I learned from that job, it was the concept that there are not little elves that stock the shelves or make my dinner. Lots of people work hard to make my life easier. 

I also learned that if you tell someone that the 25 dog bones that she grabbed were 25 for $1 and not 25 for 99 cents, she might throw each one at your head. 


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!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Autism Speaks 2014 Chef Gala Giveaway

Cleveland is an amazing city. 

We have fantastic people, beautiful museums, stunning lake views and of course, deliciously amazing food. 

The Cleveland Chef Gala, hosted by Cleveland's own, Iron Chef Michael Symon, is presented by Autism Speaks, the leading autism science and advocacy organization. The event features Cleveland's finest chefs, all sharing their signature dishes to raise fund and awareness for individuals and families affected by autism.  Chef Symon will bring his Food Network and Chew friend, Mario Batali, for an interactive dinner preparation. 

The Chef Gala is Saturday, August 9th at the fantastic Cleveland Museum of Art. Great food, beautiful art, what more can you ask for? 

One of my favorite parts of the event (after the food of course) is the silent auction and live auction. This year, you can bid on the chance to sit on stage with the Iron Chefs! Very cool.

There are all sorts of sponsorship opportunities available and you can find out everything you want to know about the event as well as purchase tickets here.  I strongly encourage you to support Autism Speaks and this event. 

Participating Chefs:

Michael Symon and Mario Batali 
Tim Bando - Grove Hill 
Jonathan Bennett - Moxie, Red 
Derek Clayton – Michael Symon Resturants 
Britt-Marie Horrocks Culey - Coquette Patisserie 
Brian Doyle - Sow Food &; Beachland Ballroom 
Brandt Evans - Pura Vida, Blue Canyon 
Anna Harouvis - Anna in the Raw 
Chris Hodgson - Hodge's, Cibreo, Driftwood Catering, Bin 216 
Jeff Jarrett – AMP 150 
Douglas Katz - fire, The Katz Club Diner, Provenance 
Tim Monsman – Market District 
Matt Mytro – flour 
Fabio Salerno – Lago & Gusto 
Jonathon Sawyer - Greenhouse Tavern, NoodleCat, & Trentina 
John Selick – University Hospitals – Ahuja Medical Center 
Karen Small – Flying Fig 
Dion Tsevdos – Cheese Shop, Urban Herbs & Classic Seafood 
Jill Vedaa - Rockefeller's 
Rocco Whalen - Fahrenheit, Rosie & Rocco’s Tacos 
Eric Williams – Momocho, El Carnicero

Now my friends, is the part that you have been waiting for.    The awesome people at Autism Speaks have given me a pair of tasting tickets, a $200 value each, to give away! There are a couple of ways to enter to win, so make sure you leave a separate comment for each method of entry. I let a computer pick the winner, so if you don't comment, you lose an entry. 

1. Leave a comment telling me who your favorite Cleveland chef is. 

2. Tweet the following: "I want to go to the @AutismNEO 2014 Chef Gala on 8/9!   #ASCleChefGala @clevelandchick"
3. Follow@AutismNEO on the Twitter. 
4. Follow @clevelandchick on the Twitter.

You have until Tuesday, August 5 at 7 pm to enter.  Start tweeting!

Disclosure: The awesome peeps at Autism Speaks asked me if I would like to giveaway a pair of tickets to you awesome peeps. Of course I do. They also offered a pair of tickets for my personal use, that sadly, I will not be able to use. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Tyler, TX is Browns Territory - Interview

Billboard outside of Tyler, Texas. Posted by @mcdaniel_sm on twitter. Please credit appropriately.  
Every season since the Browns returned to Cleveland in 1999 has floated in a murky lake of bitter, angry tears and from a fan base desperate to win.

Always, always waiting for next year. 

Waiting and waiting and waiting. 

Every year we tell ourselves that next year will be different. 

Finally, our promise to ourselves is on the verge of coming true. 

There has not been a 22nd pick in the NFL draft that has been the center of more buzz and hype than Johnny Manziel. The Heisman Trophy winner is full of swagger and confidence in his money play making ability. Exactly what you want in an NFL player. 

Look around Cleveland and you will see and hear football fans of all ages in Manziel gear and talking about Johnny Football. When it was announced Manziel and Justin Gilbert were hopping a plane and coming to Cleveland after the draft, a contingent of fans showed up in Berea, hoping to catch a glimpse of the rookies. One of those fans was my dad. My dad was peeking through the fence with the other fans, trying to see the new potential face of the franchise. 

As Cleveland fans, we love our Browns. We aren't a team that has a bandwagon rolling through town.  There hasn't been a reason for fans outside of Cleveland to even take notice of the team for anything positive. The last time anyone outside of Cleveland cared about a Browns player was Brady Quinn. When I lived in Indianapolis, a few Quinn jerseys were for sale in the mall because of his Notre Dame days. That was it.

Things have changed now.

Journalists and sports talk hosts and bloggers all over the country are now wanting to talk Browns football. They are talking about Cleveland by name. 

Today, in Manziel's home town of Tyler, Texas, a billboard went up, declaring Tyler as Browns Territory, deep in the heart of Texas (clap, clap).

How did that happen?

For the past few years, the Rose Capital Little League association has held a baseball tournament that also raises money to help a sick child. Previous years, it helped a child with cancer. This year, the proceeds from a silent auction at the event went to the Make a Wish Foundation. Awesome idea. One of the silent auction items was for a billboard. That day, 8 friends went in together to win the billboard, with the idea of using it to recognize Johnny Manziel.

Tyler is a town that has followed Manziel's record-breaking athletic career through high school and Texas A&M. Remember how Northeast Ohio followed a certain person's basketball games through his career at St.V/St.M? Imagine that certain person then went to the University of Akron (and Akron was twice the size) and continued breaking records. Now multiply that level of fandom by 2 or 3. Now, friends, you are seeing Texas football and the connection Texas has to Johnny Manziel.

I spoke with Jaime McDaniel, one of 8 people that won the billboard in the silent auction because I had to find out what pieces fell into place to result in that billboard beauty on the side of the highway.

Mr. McDaniel grew up with Johnny's parents and knows Johnny personally. We talked about how the entire town (I'm going to guess most of Texas, as well) couldn't believe that the Cowboys passed up on Johnny Football (I couldn't believe it either). Jerry Jones' loss is now our gain, because Cowboys fans are ditching the center field star for a spot in the Dawg Pound.

For example, Academy Sports, a sporting goods store that is comparable to Dick's Sporting Goods, now carries Browns merchandise, specifically #2 jerseys, and not just in Tyler. Word has it, stores over 3 hours away in Houston, even have Manziel merchandise. Mr. McDaniel's son already has his Browns hat and is ready to cheer for the Browns on Sundays.


Chatting on the phone with someone that knows Johnny, I couldn't hang up and pass up my chance to ask if JFF's Gronk partying and inflatable swan champagne swilling will be a problem. Mr. McDaniel pointed out that on game day, Johnny has always shown up and given it his all. Johnny is going to be prepared and has worked out probably harder than any other rookie.

Manziel has a connection to a young cancer survivor that will make you question his public "party boy" image.

I know that Browns fans are concerned about Johnny's off the field antics.  I say wait and see. We haven't played a game yet. He just signed his contract. Understand me clearly, if he fails to perform on the field because of shenanigans off the field, we will have a problem. But it you think he is the only professional athlete that is cutting loose during his downtime, you are a naive little bunny.

If it weren't for social media and camera phones, would anyone have even know that Johnny was in Vegas? Or would we have known about the swan? If it wasn't for Johnny Football, would we have even known Gronk was in Vegas? Would we have cared?

Joe Namath is a walking blue print for the cocky player that wants to be larger than life and full of swagger. If the world was constantly tweeted and instagramed when he played the way it is now, do you think he would have ever gotten off team probation?

*This* buttercup is going to buckle up and enjoy the ride of Johnny Cleveland mania. It is a different feeling to be this excited about the season and I like it.

While wrapping up our phone call, I asked Mr. McDaniel if he would be coming to Cleveland for a game. He told me they haven't bought tickets yet, but they "would love to come to a game."

Sir, we would love to have you and your family in town. I'm sure you won't have any problem making friends.

Note: I would like to thank the McDaniel family for chatting with me on twitter and over the phone. I appreciated being able to bug them and talk football on a Friday night. They were incredibly sweet and gracious.  I have included a portion of our conversation here, edited for clarity and space. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Running In Indianapolis

Edina and Patsy running. I think it was a vodka run though. 

I've never been a big runner. 

While some see running as a way to connect with nature, the steady thump thump thump of new sneakers on the pavement, I always viewed it as a punishment. 

In school, if you screwed up, your mistake was met by a loud "RUN" from the gym teacher. I dreaded running laps in the school gym. I loved playing basketball until 8th grade. I was never going to be awarded a scholarship for my Mark Price style jump shot, but it was fun, until my 8th grade coach. His philosophy was that we were going to run until someone threw up. Every day. Keep running until someone barfed. Maybe I just didn't have the killer competitive drive in me, but I did not find vomiting on the court to be fun.

Then I got older. 

Something happens when you hit your 30s or 40s. For some reason, there is a desire to run. Run away from things, run to things. Running is a quiet, solo sport. You can be alone with your thoughts or Eminem's through your Beats. In our ever connected life, running is the one thing you can't multitask at. Well, you shouldn't. I once tried to tweet while running. Not my finest moment.

The starting line for the Monumental Mile. 
My Facebook timeline is full of middle aged folks running. Pictures of smiling faces with number tags on their shirts, hair pulled back in pony tails. More pictures of neon colored tennies, ready for that job through the woods. 

So, not to be left out, I gave it a whirl. I participated in my first Run - the Indianapolis Monumental Mile. It looked easy enough. I can walk a mile. Certainly, I can run a mile. 

About 100 yards into the run LEG CRAMPS. Look, I know I poked fun at Lefoolio and his leg cramps, but, wow, was that painful.

I was determined to finish in my run, walk, walk, run fashion. Traffic was halted as I hobbled through intersections. With each step, I contemplated just scooting over to the side of the street and tapping out. 

I'm really not a runner.

I was however, determined to beat the lady pushing a double baby carriage. I think she may have even been breast feeding at the time too. 

I crossed the finish line in a triumphant leap. 

Then, I  had a beer and a cookie. It was what all the other runners were doing. 

After some training, I want to try a 5K. There was a sense of overwhelming pride in walking around with a number safety pinned to my shirt.  It felt nice. It will feel nicer to cross it off my bucket list and move on to something new. Or not. Only time and my shins will tell. 

But more training, and a new sports bra. 

Two very important things I did not properly consider. 

Are you a runner? Tell me about your adventures in the comments. 

The finish line at Monument Circle.

Friday, May 30, 2014

2 For 1 - Josh Gordon and Johnny Manziel

Josh Gordon. (Cleveland Plain Dealer Photo Staff)
I'm struggling with how the Cleveland Browns still have Josh Gordon on the roster.  Josh Gordon is allegedly in the stage three of the NFL substance abuse policy. That particular ring of fire is banishment from the NFL for a *minimum* of one year. 

His latest drug test failure was once again for marijuana, at least his 5th failed drug test since 2010.  Over the holiday weekend, he was busted for speeding. Ok, I'm not going to judge that one, but his "friend" was busted for carrying marijuana. 

This very well could be it for him. 

Read this very carefully, I'm not being all weed judgey pants. I don't care if he blazes up watching Friday while floundering around in a kiddie pool filled with crunchy Cheetos. This isn't a debate about whether it is right or wrong for the NFL to include marijuana in their drug policy. 

These are collectively bargained policies. Just like how long players practice and whether they play with or without pads at training camp. Gordon agreed to this when he signed his $5.3 million rookie contract. 

The Browns were aware enough of his issues, but they still took a chance on him. They should have taken it to the next step and funded a "baby sitter." A mentor or advisor to keep him on track.  At least give him advice, like get a driver. Driving around Cleveland's suburbs in a camo Lamborghini is a big, fast target.    

Gordon needs to get serious about his career. Until he does, he is doomed to make the same mistakes. 

Johnny Manziel, Gronk and the Vegas peeps. 
In addition to Gordon and his issues, #22 Draft Pick, Johnny Manziel took some time off and went to Vegas. He then hooked up with Gronk and a variety of bikini wearing new friends. 

When this picture popped up on Twitter, the first thing I thought was how grateful I was that there was no Twitter when I was 21 and in Vegas. Ahem. Then the Browns fandom exploded. Fans were furious Johnny Football wasn't home studying the playbook. 

Look, at this very moment, I do not give a furry rat's rear if he is slamming tequila shots or slurping bacon vanilla bean apple pie milk shakes. Do. Not. Care. 

Manziel is bringing a frenzy to Browns football that I don't recall ever seeing. This buttercup is all buckled up for a wild ride.  Manziel is full of himself and that will make fun football or sorrow drowning Sundays. 

Once the season starts and if Johnny Football is out being the party boy with the rest of the team circling down the drain, mark my words, I will be all over him like ants on a powdered doughnut. I'm not going to press the panic button on him yet. 

I'm just going to wait and see...and like most years, I'm waiting for THIS to be the year. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

5 Questions Answered By Someone Awesome - David Jay Collins

Hello. Welcome to awesome town. 

I'm continuing my quest to find out what makes awesome people tick and to make sure that awesome people know that they are...well...awesome. 

You can read my original blog post about the idea here. So far, I have asked questions of Scott Wise - the Scotty in Scotty's Brewhouse, Rik Danburg from your Cleveland Indians and Browns Kicker, Billy Cundiff

This time, I asked my friend, David Jay Collins, 5 questions. This one was a little weird because I know David the best out of anyone that I have chatted with so far. We went to grad school together and have been friends since before the Browns were back in town. It was stange because I sent him an email that was basically, "hey, I never told you how awesome you are when we worked together every day, so I'm telling you now. Wanna answer some questions for my blog?"

I remember the first day I met David at Iowa State. I looked like a regular grad student and he looked like my boss - tie and all. Over the years, I have been inspired by him and how he looks at the world. David is the kind of person that never thinks in small terms. Here is an example...let's say you are camping and have to fish for your dinner. You would be happy with a perch, while David is hooking a harpoon up to the boat to go after Jaws. 

It was great fun to catch up with my friend and ask him why he is so awesome. 
 David Jay Collins, friend and author of Gaybash, available now.

  1. For those who don't know you, we went to grad school together at Iowa State, and we met while working with the fraternities and sororities. What are you doing now?  

I currently work as the Community Development Manager for a Chamber of Commerce in Chicago. Since graduating I’ve worked mostly in nonprofit and have enjoyed the work very much. I’ve had some varied work experiences, though. Ten years ago the nonprofit I worked for in Washington DC closed. After returning home to Chicago, I struggled to find another job in the field. So I changed course and bartended for Hilton for a few years. That was an amazing detour I’d never trade.

  1. One of the many things about you that I think is so awesome is you are the kind of person that always thinks BIG. I remember when you were irritated with the grammar atrocities from the student groups and that spurred you to put together a handout, which resulted in a book that was published on campus and used in classes. How did that happen?

I loved putting together Spiral: The Students’ Guide to Style at Iowa State, but I knew if Spiral was going to matter to others, it had to include others. After sketching out chapter ideas, I reached out to faculty, staff, and students to determine and create the content. Grammar made up the biggest chapter, but the book included study skills, university history, business etiquette, even a chapter on beer and wine. I wanted it to feel very Iowa State-specific, so I used campus buildings and local landmarks in the grammar examples. The book was spiral-bound so it would lie flat, a convenience I envisioned for students writing papers at their computers. This was 1997, after all.

My favorite chapter was called 17 Essays, in which 17 students wrote about their personal experiences on campus. It included perspectives from African-American students, Asian-American students, student athletes, an international student, gay and lesbian students, and members of fraternities and sororities. The honesty they offered! I’d love to know what they’re all doing now.

  1. What inspires you to take a little idea and turn it into a major awesome whatever? What was the one little idea that morphed into a giant undertaking that you are most proud of?

I’m most proud of the e-book I’m about to publish, Gaybash. It’s taken me years to finish it because, looking back, I was living within my comfort zone—happily talking about writing a novel instead of actually writing a novel. In just a few weeks it will be a real e-book on Kindle and iBooks and that’s wonderful, but also a little terrifying. (CC note: GayBash is available now. Check it out for Kindle and Nook. Other formats available soon).

In my fictional novel, a reserved gay man, inspired by the actions of his bold best friend, fights back against two attackers and changes his life and the attackers’ lives, forever.
The story takes place in a section of Chicago’s North Side known as Boystown for its large gay community. The main character lives in my building and I received permission to set a few scenes at Sidetrack and Roscoe’s, two very popular bars here.

The tipping point for me came when I realized that I was so warm and cozy under my excuses that the dream of writing a novel might never happen. And I’d have no one to blame but myself. That’s when comfort became uncomfortable and like my main character, I had to break free of fear and doubt and just be alive in my life. Gaybash might fail. It might succeed. But it’s all mine and I can’t wait to get it out to the world.

  1. You are from Chicago and love it as much as I love Cleveland. What is so great about it and what makes it a special place?

I love living in Chicago for its beauty, its friendly people, its culture, and even the changing seasons. I haven’t owned a car for ten years because I can walk everywhere or take the train.

I also like that Chicago is entirely manmade. The parks, the beaches, the skyline—all of it was pulled into existence by sheer force of will. The spirit of architect Daniel “Make No Little Plans” Burnham is alive and well. It’s endlessly inspiring, cosmopolitan but welcoming, all at a pace and scale that’s not overwhelming. And compared to big cities on the coasts I think you get a lot more for your money here.

  1. Last question, who do you think is awesome and why?

My parents are pretty awesome and they encouraged my creativity from a very early age. I have many childhood memories of filling up the living room with little cities made of paper buildings I made and writing stories that I shared with them and my teachers at school. They sacrificed so much to provide me with a strong start to life and I couldn’t have asked for a more loving, supportive mom and dad. Though in adulthood our relationship has changed, in many ways we’re as close now as we ever have been.

It was only fitting that I dedicated my book to them.

If you would like to connect to David on social media, you can do so on Twitter,  Instagram and YouTube, for the Channel-To-Be where he will talk about the book, answer readers' questions and post about some of the neighborhood locations.