Monday, October 31, 2011

Pumpkins and Power Tools

I apologize for putting this up just as Halloween is ending, but I have been much busier than I anticipated. So maybe keep this in mind for next year...

Our day of pumpkin carving began like this:
Brad - "Do you think we can do it?" (for like the millionth time)
Rachael - "Yes, I think we can do it, or I wouldn't have suggested it!"

Maybe I have an inflated perception of what I think I can accomplish, but when it comes to DIY projects, I generally believe that I can find a way to make almost whatever I want. So, when I saw a picture of a Blackhawks pumpkin on Facebook and showed it to Brad, I knew that it was going to be a project we needed to take on (despite his initial doubts).

I have carved pumpkins in the past, but my experience before this weekend was limited to using a kit and pre-made stencils. Which meant that before we could get started, I needed to do a little research. I had never carved a pumpkin where I didn't cut all the way through to the middle so I googled "how to shave a pumpkin" and found this very helpful link. Also while we were researching, we found a video that mentioned using drill bits to carve out big circles from a pumpkin. Well as soon as Brad saw that idea (there is just something about power tools that guys can't resist I guess), he was sold and suddenly we were going to be carving... or I guess drilling two pumpkins.

A trip to Hobby Lobby later, and we were ready to get started. While I was working on the Blackhawks design, Brad drilled holes into his "disco pumpkin." I had never thought to use power tools on a pumpkin before but it actually made the carving process much faster and easier. For the disco pumpkin, Brad picked the size bit for the holes he wanted and went to town drilling into it. It maybe took him 15 minutes tops... but back to my pumpkin.

I did not have a stencil for the Blackhawks logo, so we printed a picture of the logo which I used as a template. I had to cut and fold the picture some to get it to fit around the curve of the pumpkin just right and then I taped down the design. After I had the picture secured, I used a metal poker that was included as part of the clay carving kit we bought to poke holes along the main lines in the design. Next, I outlined the area I planned to shave out with a pen to distinguish it from the lines I planned to cut all the way through. And then came the hard part.

Because we printed off the logo, the size of our design was limited to the size of the paper. If it had been an option, I would have definitely picked an expanded version on a larger pumpkin because suddenly I had a lot of tiny lines I needed to remove from a small space. At this point I was worried about the integrity of the pumpkin and if I could accomplish this design without destroying it. After trying to carve out the first few lines with my serrated exacto knife blade (you can use an exacto knife with a saw blade, or just stick to the serrated knife included with most pumpkin carving kits), I began wondering if I had bit off more than I could chew. This pumpkin was not only making me feel like I was developing carpal tunnel, but it was taking FOREVER! Just as I was starting to get really frustrated, in came the boy with his power tools to save the day.

Instead of using a typical pumpkin carving process of sawing out the sections we wanted to remove, we adopted a modified version involving a cordless drill. First, I cut through all of the lines in the design, and then Brad went through with a small drill bit to expand them. Although I offered to use the drill, I think he was having too much fun, so I helped by holding the pumpkin and cleaning out our cuts with a toothpick.

After we had drilled through all of the fine lines, I began working on the face of the design. First, I took a Speedball Linoleum Cutter and cut around the edges of the area. Next, I shaved out the rest of the face (this took quite a while). I continued shaving the same area, layers at a time until I had removed a section about half as deep as the depth of the pumpkin. Next I took a Clay Ribbon Tool from the before mentioned clay kit to smooth the ridges that had appeared from shaving the design. To outline the overall design, I shaved out a much shallower border. Sorry I don't have pictures to demonstrate this technique, but I was busy working, and Brad wasn't around to take pictures. To get a visual, see the link posted above.

The final steps were to drill a hole in the top for ventilation (because we cut our pumpkins from the bottom) and put a candle inside. We used a small votive for my Blackhawks pumpkin and a colored light for the disco pumpkin.

Below are pictures of our finished products. I wish I could have captured the magic of the disco pumpkin, but a camera can't do it justice. We had a colored light inside that would strobe to the beat of whatever music was playing. It was especially cool because all the colors reflected from the ceiling like a disco ball. As I mentioned in my last post, we had a birthday party to go to this weekend, and the disco pumpkin was a big hit. I'm happy to report that the blue velvet cupcakes were as well :] Happy Halloween!!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Saved by the Decorations... Almost

I suppose since I promised I would be honest, I have to admit to the tiny... I mean, pretty epic failure I experienced today. Here is what happened.

Not too long a ago, I spent a significant amount of time putting together a recipe book which I am fairly proud of. Lots of pictures, laminated pages, yummy recipes... it's awesome. Well I had my 8-year-old cousin to entertain this morning, so I thought that it would be a great occasion to bust out some of the new cupcake recipes I had found. Plus, with a friend's birthday this weekend I thought that further made it an opportune time to bake.

Well, not to place blame, but I woke up this morning in the mood for devil's food with ganache topping (I'm really not much of an icing fan. I tend to scrape it off because it's just too sweet for me), but Abbie wanted to try the Blue Velvet Cupcake recipe. I agreed because I love red velvet, and the cupcakes did look super cute. The recipe is listed below with instructions:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 lb (2 sticks) butter, at room temp.
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbs. Wilton royal blue gel food coloring
  • 1 small dab of violet gel food coloring
  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. vinegar
  • 1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese
  • 2 sticks butter, softened
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line cupcake pans with liners - makes about 26.
  2. Cream sugar and butter in mixing bowl till light and fluffy, then add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each egg.
  3. Mix cocoa and food coloring together to make a paste. Add this paste to sugar mixture and mix well again.
  4. Sift (or buzz in food processor) flour and salt, and add to creamed mixture a bit at a time, alternating with buttermilk, then mix in vanilla.
  5. Combine baking soda and vinegar in a small bowl and add to cake batter; mix just to combine.
  6. Scoop thick batter into cupcake liners, filling about 2/3 full, and bake for probably 25-30 minutes, but start checking at 20 minute mark; watch for toothpick inserted in center to come out clean.
  7. Remove cupcakes from oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
To Make Frosting
  1. Beat cream cheese, butter and vanilla with electric mixer until nice and smooth.
  2. Add sugar gradually and beat on low until combine, then beat on high speed until very light and fluffy.

Our beautiful and tasty blue batter
Everything started out great. Abbie and I were skeptical about the amount of food coloring (1 tablespoon seemed like an awful lot!), but it made the batter a beautiful shade of blue. When the batter was done, it tasted wonderful and we were ready to start filling our cupcakes. That's when things started going down hill. 

First, the recipe and instructions say that it will make approximately 26 cupcakes and that you should fill your papers 2/3 of the way up. Well, we made 26 cupcakes, but 2/3 is WAY to high. About 15 minutes into baking, the cupcakes started overflowing. There was nothing we could really do except watch the batter topple over the edges and start to burn. I wanted to pull them out early, but even after 23 minutes, my toothpick wasn't coming out clean. I ended up cutting around the cupcakes that had overflowed with a knife to trim off the burnt edges and get the treats out of the tin. And although they were pretty darn ugly, the cake itself had a really good flavor. 

At this point, we thought that maybe adding the frosting would help cover up the imperfect edges and no one would really care that we made ugly cupcakes. Well I should have known better than to use a cream cheese frosting. It just is a flavor that my family doesn't really care for too much. Also, it was extremely soft... Not the best frosting to use when you're trying to cover up an ugly cupcake. Abbie gave one to our grandpa to try and it started dripping all over him. I ended up putting them in the fridge uncovered for a little while to get the frosting to harden. I'm a bit afraid to take them out now though. 

In the end, I guess they didn't end up a huge disaster, and we did have a few successful cupcakes, but as a whole, I was disappointed. I am a perfectionist, especially when it comes to making my own work aesthetically pleasing so this was a very frustrating morning for me. However, my experience with a group of guys is that they typically are not too picky. So hopefully these will go over a little better at the birthday party tomorrow. That being said, there are a few adjustments I would make to this recipe for the next time. 

Cupcakes chilling in the refrigerator
  1. Fill the cupcake papers only half full. Two-thirds is far too much.
  2. Use a different frosting. These are very rich cupcakes, and a sugary frosting seems like too much. It might not be as pretty, but next time I think I would use a chocolate ganache or less sweet chocolate frosting and brush the decoration with edible gold paint.
  3. OR if you like the cream cheese frosting, make sure everything is chilled before you use it. Also maybe use a little less sugar.

I'm not giving up on this recipe just yet because the cake has a very good flavor, and I think they have the potential to be super cute. Especially paired with some red velvet cupcakes, I think they could be a big hit at 4th of July parties in the Summer. If you are brave enough to try to conquer blue velvet, let me know how it goes! Happy baking :)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

What's With All the Pictures?

So you may have noticed that content on the internet seems to be changing. Websites in general are becoming less text based and more visual. I could go into some of the specifics about why humans react better to images than text, but I will save you the pain of reading through that.

Way back when I was a senior in high school and Facebook was becoming more popular, I was hesitant to use it more than Myspace (my previous social media platform of choice) because it seemed much more generic. I thought, why would anyone like this? It's so boring! Gone were the customized backgrounds and music playlists on each person's profile. What eventually changed my mind about Facebook were the pictures. Not only was the general community using Myspace changing, but Facebook made it much easier to share photos. It didn't take long for nearly my entire social network to join the site and since then, I have been hooked.

It is no secret that whenever Facebook makes noticeable changes to the platform, the users get mad. Just a few days or even hours later, no one can remember what the interface looked like before, but the initial changes are always quite irritating. Which is why I was a little concerned at first when I heard about the new "timeline" profile design Facebook planned to implement. After taking the steps to make the changes to my profile though, I wish that everyone would make the switch. The timeline is much more visual (and in my opinion, more fun and attractive as well).

This is a practice I will be incorporating into my own blog. If you read my last entry about how to knit an infinity scarf, I hope you also appreciated the number of pictures included with the entry. I wanted to add as many as possible, but I found that posting images with text can make an entry look very disjointed. What does this mean? Well, that there is a delicate balance between including visuals to enhance content and putting far too much into one entry. I am hoping that as I create more content, I will continue to strike a good balance between visuals and content.

If you are like me and appreciate images with your content, you should check out the site Be prepared to waste some time though because it is very easy to get hooked!

What are your thoughts on this topic? Are pictures really that important? Or would you rather get the content you want without the noise? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

First Project: the Infinity Scarf

This fall, one of the trends I have been most attracted to is the chunky infinity scarf/mobius loop/circle scarf/whatever you choose to call it. I taught myself the basics of how to knit back in high school, so when I decided I wanted to make one, I searched the internet for a pattern that I liked, and picked this one. I used a moss stitch for the first time and found that it really wasn't hard for someone with minimal experience. These are the materials I used:

  • 2 skeins - Lions Brand Yarn, Nature's Choice Organic Cotton
  • US 9 or 5.5mm circular needles - Clover Brand
  • scissors (to trim excess yarn from the ends)

Fairly simple, huh? I chose the Nature's Choice Organic Cotton because the yarn was very soft (I'm a sucker for anything soft) and did not contain any animal hair. Anything with wool, angora, or other animal hair in it makes me feel really itchy and uncomfortable so I try to stay away from it as much as possible. 

And now for the fun part... making the scarf :]

If you have never knitted anything before, this video breaks down how to make your slip knot and cast on. I prefer to cast on this way though.  

To start, I cast on 95 stitches onto my needles. This will make a scarf that is long enough to wrap around twice. If you don't want to wrap your scarf more than once, I would recommend using close to half the number of stitches (and a shorter set of circular needles). Regardless of how many stitches you choose to use, you will need to pick an odd number to avoid too many headaches while using the moss stitch. 

After I had cast on all of my stitches, I flipped my needles so that the last stitch I had cast on was in my right hand, and the first was in my left. Before continuing, you may want to place a marker on your needles in front of the first stitch. I started my first row by continuing to knit from the last stitch I had cast on into the first stitch using a knit stitch. If you need a visual of what the project should look like at this point, check out this video (contrary to what she recommends, you will want your stitches to have a twist in them if you want to make a mobius loop like the scarf pictured below).

After the first knit stitch, I continued a pattern of purl 1, knit 1, purl 1, knit 1... (you get the picture) to the end of the row. You should end with a knit stitch. These videos provide tutorials on how to knit stitch and purl stitch if you are unfamiliar with the techniques. For the moss stitch to work, I alternated between the two stitches which meant I had to bring my yarn to the front or back of the needle each time to start the next stitch. So, before you complete a knit stitch, the yarn should be towards the back of the needle or away from you, whereas before you complete a purl stitch, the yarn should be on the front side of the needle or towards you. Here is a short video demonstrating what I mean.

Continuing with the purl 1, knit 1 pattern, I began my second row with a purl stitch. This is important to make the moss stitch work. You should always be knitting a purl stitch into the previous row's knit stitch and vice versa. Use this pattern for every row until you finish your scarf. The pattern I used recommended knitting 23 rows, but I chose to use about double that. I found that 2 skeins of the yarn I was using gave me the size scarf I wanted, so I didn't worry about the number of rows. Instead, I just kept knitting until I had used that amount of yarn. If you decide to do the same, you will need to add in the new yarn about half way through the scarf. If you want, you can just tie the ends together and clip them, or you can combine them the way you technically should by kitting the tails back into the work. This is a helpful video about how to do that.

Once you have achieved a scarf with your desired number of rows, be sure you have left enough yarn to bind off and finish your scarf.

After I made my first scarf, I decided that the pattern was easy enough that I wanted to make more. I made one in khaki for my mom, cream for my sister, and kept the green for myself. The colors were so pretty though, I wish that they lived close to me so that I could steal - I mean borrow theirs ;]

With Halloween just around the corner, I thought it would be cute to make some festive cards to send off with my scarves. I picked up a pack of blank cards with envelopes from Target and decided to check out for design inspiration. This is what I came up with. You can also make your own cards, or buy one like the one I made here. I know that it's sometimes easy to cross the line from cute into tacky, but I have found that usually when you make it yourself, people tend to be more forgiving of the tacky haha. For my mom, I made a card with witch shoes because when we were little, we had a Halloween decoration that looked like the Wicked Witch of the West had crashed into our door with her little legs peeking out.

For my sister, I made a card inspired by another design I found on It was a design embroidered on clothing for little boys and girls, but unfortunately, I could not find the link to add it in my entry. I left her card simple, with just the design on front and my letter inside. Thank goodness the post office has flat rate boxes, because that made shipping easy! :]

And finally, we have me in my scarf pictured above to the right. I had a lot of fun working on these projects and I hope you do too! If you have any questions or would maybe like to commission me to make one for you, contact me, and we'll work something out ;] Happy knitting!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Importance of Being Transparent

When it comes to managing an online personality, I believe one of the most (perhaps the most) important principles to follow is to be transparent. For a brand, that means not being gimmicky, and delivering messages consistent with the brand's promise. For a person, it means being honest. That does not mean that I am recommending posting intimate details online; however, it is important to be real with your audience if you want them to stick around. I have the following example to illustrate my point:

There is a girl I am Facebook friends with from high school. She consistently updates her profile picture to images of models. What bothers me about this practice is that she does it to suggest that she is actually the girl in the photos. She has long, dark hair, and she chooses pictures of girls whose faces are partially concealed or distorted so that they resemble her own features. But honey, there is a reason those photos have such a low resolution, and if I can google an image you have posted as your profile picture and find an advertisement for Urban Outfitters or some other indie inspired webpage, I know it isn't you. I think what irritates me most about her pictures is that she continues to promote that these images are of herself in the interactions she has with her friends. Someone will leave a comment such as: "You're so beautiful!" and she'll respond, "Thanks :)." Or in one case someone asked, "where is this?" and she wrote "the Ohio river." It makes me want to put my two cents in with a comment like "what?? How would you know? This picture is obviously not you, and it makes me a little bit sick that you would be so dishonest with the people you call your friends to try to mislead them into thinking that it is." I suppose at the end of the day, her profile pictures are really of no consequence to me, they just rub me the wrong way, and I think that this irritation is typical of my generation.

As a member of Generation Y (or the Millennials), I am in an age cohort that does not respond to marketing tactics the same way. Rapid technological advancement has caused my generation  to question marketers' messages. To reach us, the interaction needs to change. It needs to be personal and and it needs to be honest. That means less mass communication and more conversation. Which is what I hope to accomplish.

In this blog, I am essentially managing a part of my own brand. That means I am going to use the above values I have mentioned in my own writing. I can write professionally, but my entries will be informal. I am choosing to communicate with my audience like I would a friend rather than the way I would if I was writing a cover letter for a prospective job. Also, contrary to what I have been taught as an artist and as a business woman, I will be giving away all my trade secrets. I think Facebook is on to something by promising to always be free for members. Really, I think that is the way the internet should be. It is very frustrating for me when I find a project I want to work on, but I have to dig through hundreds of search results to find a source that will give me instructions for free. Therefore, I will be doing the opposite. When I create something I like, I will let you know how to make it too, with detailed instructions.

As I mentioned before, I will be working on generating conversations. That can only work with a little audience interaction though. So let me know what you think, and let's start talking!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Hello world!

Welcome to my newest blog! :] Now, I have tried the blogging thing in the past, but aside from a Xanga I am embarrassed to say I kept up regularly in middle school, my previous attempts have not gone very far. So, I am hoping to have better luck this time.

The biggest issue I have had when it comes to blogging is finding my voice. My problem is that I studied social media in college, and what I have learned about using blogging as a tool tends to conflict with what I really want to write about. Currently, I am a recent graduate of Miami University with a degree in Marketing whom is looking for full-time employment. The articles I have read about "using social media to enhance your job search" (or something along those lines) would recommend that I use this blog as a platform to share my knowledge about digital marketing. To make it a place where I post interesting articles I find with a witty accompanying paragraph or two. Then, hopefully my established online personality will be attractive enough to a company/brand that it will recruit me to manage its online presence. Unfortunately, social media is not the only thing I am interested in writing about.

I have always been a very creative person, and to be honest, the times I am most likely to read a blog are when I am researching a new artsy project I want to start. Those are the blogs that make me attracted to the platform. They inspire me to want to join those communities and conversations. To start my own blog about painting, various craft projects, baking, fashion, etc. But seriously, how am I supposed to pick just one of those topics to be interested in?

Most blogs today are extremely specialized. Authors make money writing blogs because they become experts in one specific area. So, for example, if I am interested in baking and art, and I want to be credible in those respective communities, I need to start two different blogs. Oh, and in order to keep my audience engaged, I need to write posts on a regular basis with new content. Well that is a LOT of work... not to mention, I am also supposed to be writing about social media, right? Now because I am interested in three topics, I need three blogs?? Holy cow. This whole blogging thing is starting to make me feel schizophrenic. If the point of being a blogger is to manage an online personality, then why can't my blog be multifaceted like a REAL person? Well I am hoping that it can be. Which brings me to what I aspire to accomplish with this blog.

In nearly every interview, I have been asked by a recruiter where I want to be in the next 5-10 years as well as about what I like to do in my free time. Well, I hope that through this blog, I can work on getting to where I want to be in the future while enjoying what I like to do today. I plan to share and apply the principles I have learned about blogging and establishing a personal brand online while also writing about the art projects I like to take on in my spare time. A sort-of combination of "how to" and "DIY" material. I am not sure if I will be successful, but I am sure going to try.

Thank you for stopping by and sharing this small part of the journey with me! Please feel free to leave comments or suggestions, and come back to see where this goes in the future :]