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.