Monday, December 31, 2012

Goodbye 2012... Another year in letterboxing

Goodbye, 2012.  What a wonderful year you were. In 2012, I found 151 boxes (down 50 from the year before), and planted 67 - weirdly, the same as the year before.  The vast majority of those were for Box ON!. I hosted a mini meet and the big Ontario meet, I crossed the border multiple times for events and regular letterboxing, and was in my first car accident.

My favourite plant would be Love in Suraksan - mostly because it's never been found and probably never will be, but it's my little seed of hope on the other side of the globe.  Only found once is my And a Bottle of Rum box down in Key West, a fun letterbox.

My favourite find this year was the Hockley Valley Hitchhiker Chalet by trailfeathers. The find doesn't stick out for me, but the age and history of this beastie really did it for me. This box dates back to 2007 and had some amazing Ontario letterboxing history in its pages.  It had sat for a while before I got up there; it's pretty far out of the way for most of the existing boxers in this province, but was a beautiful find anyway.  I had a great letterboxing day the day I found this one and this box in particular did it for me.

Despite my own personal downswing in finds, this blog has really picked up.  I've posted over 100 posts this year, and I'm getting a lot of traffic from Google.  A good chunk from Atlas Quest, but lots from Google. Weird. But I'm not here to make money from this blog, just wanting to post about my adventures and maybe inspire others to take a walk in the woods.  I've been stalking other blogs and am happy that Ms. Viking has really gotten blogging as well.

I'm looking forward to some great letterboxing in 2013 - and in particular to We Live & Breathe in Massachewsetts Massachusets Massachewbackasetts Massachusetts.  And I'm also looking forward to spelling Massachusetts correctly the first time I type it.

Anyways, I hope everyone has had a great year and I look forward to seeing you on the trails in 2013...

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Book binding and holiday cards...

So, I've been making my own holiday cards for a while now, and I've been keeping my favourite cards for longer still.  And the question had always remained, what to do with the cards after the holiday/event? Throw them in a drawer? A box? Recycle them?
My first book of Christmas cards.
Then while learning to bind my own books for logbooks, I came across something that stuck with me - just as you fold signatures for binding, each card is sort of like a little card-stock signature of its very own and therefore easily bound. Somewhere I saw how someone had taken their cards and bound them into books.  I can't remember for the life of me where I saw this - it might be in one of my books or I might have seen it online.  Credit is due somewhere, but it's not with me.

So this is my first attempt to bind up my cards.  I got some really beautiful ones this year and like that they are now in a book that I can shelve and perhaps bring out to look at if the mood strikes me.  It only took three episodes of Big Bang Theory to complete, so just over an hour.  If you can bind a book, you can bind yours too. 

Here's the stuff.  Beautiful carved images at the top, rest of my cards all around, and the stamps I carved to make my own cards this year on the left.

I used my own stamps on the cover - I forgot to keep any of the cards for myself this year, or rather, I ran out of cards and actually had to use purchased ones for some.

Bound and standing on their own. I ordered the cards from short to tall to make the book more easily flipped.  The cards each have a unique width so being able to see the next larger one behind it is nice.

Finished and on the coffee table.  My supervisor worked so hard that she here is enjoyed a well-deserved nap.

Happy trails!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Last possible letterbox day of the year: thwarted.

So I'm currently standing at 390 finds and thought it would be lovely to end the year at 400.  How nice would that be?  I pulled together a whole bunch of clues for Kitchener-Waterloo, packed all my letterboxing stuff, and headed out this morning.

Well, I made it only about as far as Dixie Road exit on the 401 before I turned around.  I decided to give up after seeing 10 cars that had spun out along the highway and on/off ramps.  Ten is the magic number.  Drove home.

It was sad.  I really wanted to get a couple of new boxes... The boxes I would have been hunting were by a range of different letterboxers, some known to me, some not.  Damned snow.

Well, then back at home, sipping spiked coffee (hey! it's still holidays for me!) and carving up some new stuff.

Snowy trails!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Back in the saddle...

Spoilery, yes.  But only part of a larger image.
It's good to be carving again.  I'm moved in, settled, found all of my letterboxing paraphernalia, and am getting around to carving some images that I transferred a long time ago - Back in the Burlington days, actually. (I should probably stop transferring en masse - what happens is that I lose motivation with the specific images and then never carve them.  Then the rubber just sits in limbo.)

Hope you're all finding time to carve over the holidays!

Happy trails!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Happy Boxing Day!

Whatever your religous background, I believe any reader of this blog can agree to celebrate one particular day of the year: Boxing Day.

It has been well established that Boxing Day is the one day of the year that people from across the commonwealth gather together to celebrate the great hobby of letterboxing.  And so I'm just popping in to leave some cheer with the traditional Boxing Day poem:

May your trails be clear, 
With some clues for nearby.
May your boxes be clean,
And your logbooks all dry.

May your material be firm,
And your gouges be sharp.
Your transfers detailed,
And your carve on the mark.

May your boxing be wonderful,
Both near and afar,
Find lots in the New Year --
Wherever you are.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful Boxing Day. Sip some seriously spiked nog for me.

Lots of love,

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Just checking in...

Well, it's been a long time since I've posted here.  There probably won't be too many more posts before the end of the year (if any). But here's a quick update of my travels:

  • I've moved to downtown Toronto.  Mostly everything is unpacked, but I just can't find where I put things.  Case in point: I know where my OZ Cut is, can't find my gouges.  Little hard to do any carving in those circumstances...
Supervising the moving process.  Also can't find the gouges.
  • I bought one of those Helmer drawer sets for my letterboxing stuff.  I saw them in an Ikea a while ago and thought the shallow drawers and mobility of the thing would be perfect for my letterboxing stuff in my new apartment.  I was right, it's perfect.  Problem: Ikea is discontinuing them.  So go buy one asap! I was told what is on shelves is what is left...
Also, the Burlington Teen Tour Band finishing up the Niagara on the Lake Parade...
  • The marching season is over.  No more parades for me this year - luckily the weather was pretty good for all of them, so I haven't lost any fingers to frost bite. 
  • My Christmas cards are finally done and going out.  I carved my own again this year - three different stamps, two from images, two that I carved freehand (into my last bit of that awful crumbly stuff - now it is gone!). 
This year's cards, free hand carves on the last bit of the crumbly stuff.
Anyways, I'm off.  Christmas plans to plan, need to clean my new place, and getting prepped for a new job in the new year.  Oh, and I guess I also have to do some Christmas shopping.  Gotta go, busy.

Happy trails!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fun, fabulous, functional fonts

Probably the most difficult thing I've had to learn to carve is text.  Somehow, when carving regular images, I feel like there is a lot of leeway given in the interpretation of the object that I'm carving.  When I carve some bad lines in an image, my brain interprets everything properly when everything is stamped up and things often look better than the disaster my fatalistic brain has come up with.

However, with text, there really is no leeway. My brain has been hardwired for reading and will notice even the faintest improper wiggle in the lines.  I guess a lot of other people feel that way too and because of that they are intimidated from taking on something with text.

But, my advice would be, carve it anyway! You'll only get better at it!  Carve more! Practice makes perfect!

I remember going and finding a Fiddleheads carve out in the wild that had some text on it that completely blew me away.  I had to learn to do that...

The thing is, you're only setting yourself up for sadness if you use default computer fonts for your carvings.  Here's why: default fonts that come pre-installed with whatever software you're using (such as Times New Roman, Arial, Helvetica, etc) are meant for dense writing on paper and huge amounts of text. The fonts are meant for printers printing at 500 dot per inch.  The individual glyphs are tiny, thin, well nuanced, and essentially not well-suited for carving.  Can they be carved? Yes, by really talented carvers, at large sizes, etc.

That's not me.  I need to carve good lookin' text and not have the letters be giant.  And let's face it, default fonts are boring.  I work all day with Times New Roman and Cambria. Gag.  No more, thanks.  Where's my freedom of creative expression?

Oh.  Free fonts, you say?


There's nothing like a new font to get your creative juices going.  As much as I wander through the depths of Google Images looking for pretty pictures to carve, I probably spend even more time wandering through the depths of free font sites, finding inspiration at every turn. You need fat fonts, not necessarily round - but big black ones that are conducive to carving even when tiny.

I remember in the lead up to Box ON! deciding that I was concerned that there weren't going to be that many boxes out for the event and that people were going to be climbing all over one another at the box locations.  Coming up with a way to slow people down and increase the number of boxes was achieved one day while wandering through fonts: why not carve labels for each of the boxes with both the name of the mysterious location and the carver?

I found the perfect font for it: Rapscallion.  I liked the font so much that I used it on the map for the event as well (you can check that out here). I also found a number of icon fonts for the glyphs I used to mark the locations of the boxes on that map.  Essentially, that map was one big ol' font fest.

Seriously, if you're not a technically inclined person, don't fret about installing new fonts on your computer.  Whether you have a PC or a Mac, it's super easy, there are great instructions at DaFont here.

I spend most of my time at DaFont, but here's a great list of free font websites to check out:

  • Dafont - my favourite site, spend a lot of time here - check out in particular the section on "Dingbats" - lots of great carving images, no editing required.
  • 1001FreeFonts - great site, some great fat black fonts that are good for carving.
  • Creamundo - many nights have been lost in this website
  • Action Fonts - also has a great dingbat section, I particularly like their Alien Symbols 
I'm sure there are a lot other great places to get fonts... I'm inspired now and my carving materials are still buried in my packed stuff.  Grr. What was I thinking?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


So, in the middle of moving to a new apartment in the City, done in the middle of changing jobs, in the middle of packing, in the middle of saying goodbyes, in the middle of hearings, in the middle of the Christmas season, in the middle of life... I'm anxious about the fact that I have packed my carving stuff and can't get at it for at least a week.


One more week to go and I'll be moved; one more month to go and I'll be in a new job. My trail name should have been Gypsy Jo.

On the road again...

Monday, November 26, 2012

Letterboxing in Key West, Florida


Key West is my Moby Dick.

When I first learned about letterboxing and before I ever went out on my first letterboxing adventure, I thought - cool, I bet I could do this travelling... I wonder if there are any letterboxes in that place I just got back from - Key West.  And there were.  At all the places I visited.  I was a little irritated that I didn't know about letterboxing and that I didn't get a chance to go find them.

So, flash forward a couple years to a time when my marching band gets invited for a festival in Key West.  Awesome.  It is on.  Those boxes are so mine.

I didn't have a lot of time in KW, but I had some great letterboxing times.  Some beautiful boxes are down in Key West!  So I rented a moped (what fun!) and headed out for a wonderful day of boxing!

The hens and roosters really were everywhere!
On the whole, the letterboxes in Key West were great.  Good hides, nice carves, and wonderful logbooks.  The logs were really interesting because I think a lot of other boxers come through on vacation, so there were some really interesting entries in the logs, and plenty of them.

Cock of the Walk was amazing in this regard because it was an older box with many, many entries.  I loved reading through them.

Key West apparently passed a law almost 100 years ago forcing the release of chickens that were being used in cock-fights.  Not sure of this, couldn't confirm online... But in any event, there are hens and roosters roaming freely all over the island and there are municipal laws prohibiting anyone from molesting the chickens.  Molesting.  Moving on.

I particularly liked the magnetic box that I found at Bo's - where I stopped for some delicious food and a few drinks.  Bo's broken down truck was fantastic - and I remember seeing it last time I was down. I actually didn't find the box on my own, mostly because I have issues sticking my hands in places potentially hiding spiders.  Ick.  Fortunately, a brave noxer I was with was not similarly afflicted and found the box for me.  Awesome. Drinks all around.

Later, I found what I think might be my favourite letterbox to date: it was in the cemetery in Key West - a place that specifically prohibits letterboxes - so I'm not posting the box link here.  With any small of amount of sleuthing, you'll find it.  Fantastic cemetery, with lots of amazing sights.  The hide was fantastic - I loved it.  Location - not style of hide, which was fairly typical.  I don't want to spoil it for future finders, so I won't comment other than to say this one gets my solid seal of approval.  The stamp was great and the log was facinating.  The cemetery had many beautiful sights and I left a box of my own.  Huge lizards abound, and I actually found a toad inside a toad abode.  So cool.

A toad abode...

With a toad.

So here it is: Key West Cemetery prohibits letterboxing. But geocaching is allowed? I would have loved to be at city council when this ordinance was passed. Maybe one day I'll hunt down the staff report recommending this... This is crazy.

I visited Hemingway House to find the Hemingway Cat box... Cat with thumbs? They're trying to take over the world!
These cool trees make interesting places to hide boxes...
The festival was great... This is probably the most tame picture I took and the only one that I would post on a blog for what is often a family based activity...

Thanks Key West!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Car crashes and letterboxing in Buffalo, New York

Summary of my recent letterboxing trip to Buffalo, NY: lots of great letterboxes, and a banged up car.

For reasons other than letterboxing, I went down to Buffalo to catch a flight to Key West in mid-October.  I decided this was the perfect opportunity to go and nab some of the many (many!) non-event letterboxes that exist down in the City of Good Neighbours.

So, with clues in hand, off I went.  I have to say, the first couple of clues took me, via GPS, to areas that I wasn't exactly comfortable getting out of my car.  So those were automatically skipped.  I was probably overreacting, but I was down in another country on my own and wasn't getting good vibes being on my own in those areas.  Had I had a fellow boxer with me, or even a mediocre noxer, I probably would have tried them.

Anyways, I made my way over to Ronald McDonald's House, by Papa Shengo, and made a quick find near this building.  It's a beautiful old property - I know there are RM Houses in Canada as well, never saw them, but if this is the standard for those charities than I'm really impressed.  This letterbox was really cute, I liked the stamp, but it was getting a little soggy.  Dried it out and got back on my way...

Next up was Nickel City, at a delicious cheese shop.  I love cheese.  LOVE cheese.  It was torture going into this cute shop and not buying out the store.  What could I possibly do with all this cheese, flying the next day to Florida as it were.  Must go back.  GreatBigSabres did a great job on the hide on this one and the shopkeeper seemed bemused watching me while I stamped in. Great carve and I picked up a HH as well...

Give Blood, Give Life was next - exactly where it said it was.  I notice with a lot of the clues in NY that references to things like "pine" or "cedar" or the like are just generic references to anything evergreen.  This one for instance said to find the box under pine needles... but it's at the bottom of a cedar with no pines to be seen anywhere around.  *shrug* I knew what they were getting at ;)

I did some shopping in between here... I filled my car with lots of wonderful things to outfit my new apartment in Toronto.  I was going to be across the border for enough time that it was very much worth it to get some purchases in to take back with me.  Good times.  My credit card company loves me.

Anyways, moving on to my big list of boxes, I got to only two more, Life Memorial Park and Babeville.  Life Memorial Park had one of the coolest in-bush hides I've seen, but was unfortunately botched by a previous boxer who thought it would be a great idea to force a HH in a box that it clearly did not fit in and than not reclose it properly and leave it to the elements.  That wasn't very responsible.  I'm trying not to rant too hard here, but that's really inconsiderate.   Grr.  And then Babeville.  And then car accident.

I've never been in a car accident before.  There I was, on a clear day, going about 70 km/h, approaching an intersection that I would be going straight through with a green light.  In the opposite direction, in the left hand turn lane, someone stopped waiting to make the left after I get through the intersection.  And just as I got to the intersection, tries to make the left in front of me.  Slammed on the breaks, plowed right into is front right corner.  Pushed his whole car back a bit.

Anyways.  I really was freaked out, not just because of the accident, but I was all by myself in another country and I really have no idea what the rules are for accidents in NY.  In Ontario, if the damages look under $500, you just exchange info and go on your merry way.  Typical deductibles in Ontario mean that none of these go through your insurance anyway, particularly because everything is no-fault.  If it's over $500, you call the collision centre who comes out and makes a report. But what does $500 worth of damage look like? And what if the rules are different here?

So, to be careful, the police were called (who showed up really quickly and dealt with it fast - I was really impressed).  The damage to the other guy's car was significant - I crushed his front end.  The damage to my car - at least from the outside - looked negligible.  If I was going to have to pay to fix it, I wouldn't have.

But in NY, I found out, tort law applies still, so I did not even have to pay the deductible on my insurance to get the somewhat minor appearing damage to my car completely repaired - the US insurer covered mine.  The other guy was at fault because he made a left in front of me in an intersection where I had the right of way.

Once I got back to have the car assessed by my insurer, I became pretty impressed with my car (which, as anyone who knows me knows, I'm not really fond of).  Although the damage was minor on the outside, I completely wrecked this piece inside that is meant to take the impact.  It was obliterated - protecting both me and the rest of my car.  That piece was replaced and I'm really impressed with the build of my car now.  Food for thought for the few boxers who travel with me in my car from time to time ;)

Anyways.  The accident freaked me out so bad that I called it quits for the day.  I didn't stop shaking until I met up with a friend in Buffalo and had a stiff drink (or two).  Also, funny note: I always forget how strict Americans are about drinking.  I haven't been carded in Canada for years (drinking age Ontario: 19).  But every time I go out for something in the states, carded.  And I forgot my driver's license & passport at my friend's apartment when we went out.  Nice soul nevertheless served me. (I'd been denied alcohol before when I've forgotten my ID.)

Happy trails and keep your eyes on those left hand turners!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Letterboxing critical mass

Warning: the following was written by a stressed, morose, and overtired Bumble.

Sometimes, not always, but sometimes I worry about the future of letterboxing in Ontario.  I've been boxing for a little over two years now and have a pretty good idea about who's out there and actively letterboxing.  And those are some tiny numbers for such a vast geographic area.

Last year while I was actively planting on a regular basis, I was accordingly also receiving box find emails through AQ on a regular basis.  This year, that has significantly dwindled.  Which is to be expected; most "local" (read: Ontario, huge) boxers have found most of my boxes.  The ones that have few finders will continue to only have a few finders for whatever reason.  Others get a lot of traffic from letterboxers just passing through - and actually my first letterbox is great for this because the location is nice and close to the nearest highway.

This year, it would seem that there was a spurt of boxes planted by new boxers out in Jigg & Kenlaur territory.  And then a longer spurt out  in Viking & Starhexen territory. New boxer in Ajax, planting away as well. But nada in Toronto where the greatest number of people live.

So the concerning equation is such: no new boxers = no new finds.  Also no new letterboxes by new boxers.  I know I can rely upon our community to continue planting, and so will I, but on some level isn't that a disincentive to continue letterboxing?  That the same letterboxers are planting the same style boxes all the time? Maybe disincentive is too strong, but for the casual letterboxer, is not boredom the enemy?

Is letterboxing growing or dying here? I worry that all it would take is a few key players out of this game for it to fizzle out in short order.  But is decline inevitable anyway?  How many boxers does the hobby need here for it to be self-sustaining?  What is the critical mass? For those who've been boxing here longer than me, are you seeing trends?  I loathe to think that there needs to be an active recruitment of boxers in Ontario; however, will the hobby die out without it?

And so, how did Jiggs and Lone R (who I understand were pretty much the first Ontarian boxers) continue with the hobby in the face of a dearth of knowledge about it here? Were their first plants more like throwing a message in a bottle in the St. Lawrence - full of hope that in the theoretic future someone in Ireland would find their note?  Was it truly just that speculative?  What a defiant act of hope...

And really, I should have nothing to complain about.  I have an established, if small, friendly and engaged community of boxers who are sure to entice others to the game.  There are plenty of boxes by foreboxers out there for me to find still, there is plenty of boxing to do just across the border, and I can be just as hopeful about the future of letterboxing as the others.  Time to plant some more boxes and stop whining.  I mean, it could be worse: I could be in Nunavut.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Checking in with the blahs *or* I'd rather be letterboxing

Hello.  Just checking in.  Haven't dropped off of the face of the planet, just busy.  And I've got the blahs.

I'm working on a couple posts about recent letterboxing adventures - one regarding some box finds in Buffalo, New York, and another for Key West, Florida. Spoiler: I think my favourite find ever is down in Key West... I was down for Fantasy Fest just before Hallowe'en, which was awesome.  Just missed Sandy. However, I got in a car accident while in Buffalo on my way to the airport, so letterboxing there was cut short. But those posts are coming along... Soonish.

Meanwhile, I'm in the midst of insurance claims, getting my car fixed, packing to move, buying new furniture, making moving arrangements, as well as the usual workload for this time of year at work.  Oh, I just remembered that I have to make all the calls to get my address changed for everything. Sigh.  It's all good, I'm a very lucky girl, but I've got the serious blahs.

I'd much rather be letterboxing.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Numbers Station Redux

Ever since I learned about them, I have been fascinated by numbers stations.  My first exposure to one was on my favourite show of all time, LOST, where a numbers station was programmed 16 years earlier to air with a french plea for help.

I mostly forgot about them until the first LOST alternative reality game where there was a kind of numbers station set up as the next clue to unlock the next part of the game.  Creepy as all get out.  To solve it, you actually had to figure out how to reverse the video/audio to hear ciphertext being read (see the reversed version here). But it was then that I really started looking at where this idea came from and whether numbers stations are still airing (they are).

I even went so far as to get a short wave radio in order to hear them.  Creeped me out so bad, I didn't sleep for two nights, haven't listened on my own again since.

Anyways, after letterboxing for a while, I thought that a numbers-station-esque clue might be kind of cool, so I set about trying to figure out how to make a fake recording of a numbers station.

GarageBand and my first Numbers Station clue.
In the end, I used Rock Band which is preinstalled in my Macbook to take a number of recordings of static, a copy of me playing Yankee Doodle, as well as me reading off a phonetic alphabet set of clues.  I decided to use a melody intro and conclusion to be more like the well-known Lincolnshire Poacher numbers station, but I didn't have access to a child to read off the cipher, so I just read it myself while putting on a voice.

Then, mixed the sound levels a bit, save and export, send to Jackbear, and voila my first audio clue.


But then comes the waiting.  The worst part of a new letterbox.  Will anyone ever find it? Is the clue too hard? Can people even hear the recording properly? Should I make it easier? Is the clue too creepy to listen to? Should I just leave it?

After two weeks, there was a first finder, eight months after that, another finder. None since.

Then it occurred to me that I could easily just make another one and put it somewhere else for an entirely different group of boxers to potentially find. There are plenty of different numbers stations, after all.  A series of boxes perhaps.  Really, who's stopping me? Only me.  And since I had a lovely vacation planned for the near future, I set the gears in motion.

Actually, the location was perfect - and I even named this second box after the actual nearby numbers station.  You can hear some of the real station in the video below.  Stamp was easy, very similar to the original Numbers Station stamp, but unique.  Also, location, check. Planted, check. Then came the clue.  Second time around, easy peasy.

Jackbear was kind enough to host the last Numbers Station clue on the Letterpod, and agreed to host again...

And so, for your listening enjoyment: Numbers Station: AtenciĆ³n. My original box: Numbers Station.

I enjoyed doing it again, so I'll probably do another if I end up with a good location for one...

Happy trails!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Spooky Hallowe'en movies to carve by: Part V

Happy Hallowe'en!
Hope you're having a spooktacular night, filled with treats, tricks, and some spooky atmosphere.  Here are the last three movies for the season... You should be able to get somewhere to download and watch these shows, it'll set the mood just right for some awesome pumpkin carving!

Trick R Treat (2009)

My absolute favourite Hallowe'en movie at the moment... This movie unfortunately went directly to video, not sure why, but it is an amazing movie with a few concurrent story lines.  Perfect to have on while busy handing out candy or carving your pumpkins.  Sam's the man - better keep up the Hallowe'en spirit or he'll be after you!

Roseanne Hallowe'en episodes (1980s-1990s)

Okay, so Roseanne Barr loves Hallowe'en and made sure that each season of the hit show she starred in had a great Hallowe'en episode.  I remember making sure to see the new episodes each year when they came out - and I guess other people had great memories of those episodes too since the powers that be released a Hallowe'en Special dvd features just those episodes...

Beetlejuice (1988)

And last but certainly not least is Beetlejuice.  Happy haunting!

Pumpkin carving 109: finishing touches

Happy Hallowe'en everyone! 

Last things for your jack 'o lanterns:
  • The lids of your pumpkins are excellent carriers for delicious smells.  My favourite thing to do with my jacks is to cut the lids up a bit so that I can rub cinnamon and nutmeg on them.  Once you have a few of these going with candles, your place will smell delicious.
  • When lighting your jack, use a votive-sized candle rather than a tea light.  The light is much stronger from a votive and they'll last longer through the night.
  • Remember that the more delicate the carving, the shorter the lifespan of your jack.  A basic triangle-eyed carving will last much longer than delicate lacing - depending where you live, they will either rot or dry out.  My general rule is to never carve earlier than 48 hours before Hallowe'en.
  • However, you can make them last longer depending on why they've gone bad:
    • If you live in a wet area and your pumpkins tend to rot: there are some great recipes out there for bleach solutions that you spray into your pumpkin and into the carving that kill the bacteria that make this happen. Google is your friend, for recipes. I don't do this for various reasons.  
    • If your pumpkin is more likely to dry out: you can try using either a really thick aerosol hairspray or vaseline to coat the interior edges of all your carvings to slow down the evaporation of the moisture from the jack.  Obviously wait until the hairspray dries before lighting up those candles ;)
  • Big groupings of similarly-themed jacks look great... 
  • To photograph your jack well, turn your camera flash off.  And get a tripod.
  • After the event, don't just trash those jacks! Depending on where you live, you might be able to take them to an after party.  For example, the Sorauren Park pumpkin parade wants your pumpkins!
And remember: never blow your jack o' lantern out before midnight, it's bad luck!

Pumpkin lid with some cuts for better cinnamon penetration...

The perfect incense burner...

Happy Hallowe'en!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pumpkin carving 108: carving technique

Sorry for the delay, I was down in Key West trying to make it home and had a little trouble and delay due to Sandy.  Back to regularly scheduled programming!

Now that I've done a good transfer of this stencil, I need to start carving!

With my trusty saw, a carve following the following principles:

  • I never use a driving force across the face of the pumpkin.  Only ever up and down perpendicular to the pumpkin flesh.  If you try to drive the saw forward, a couple things happen: you will wreck your blade pretty quickly (the blade will break off the handle) and you will inadvertently cut through something you were not intending to cut through.  This is probably the most important thing I can tell you, so to put it in another way: only ever use force up and down into the pumpkin, never pushing the blade across the face of it.
  • I start with the most delicate pieces.  The surrounding flesh will hold everything together that way.
  • Then, when all remaining pieces are equal, I start at the top left and make my way down to the bottom right.  (My sister, who is left handed, would start at the top left and make her way down to the bottom right.)  You do this to keep everything that you've carved in sight and also to prevent you from inadvertently putting your wrist down on the pumpkin face where you've carved and damaging anything.
  • The biggest pieces should usually be taken out last.  While that pumpkin flesh is in place, it helps to support the smaller areas you're taking out - if you take it out first, you're sort of undermining the integrity of those smaller areas when you carve them.
  • For the best lighting of the pumpkin, it is important to undercut the image.  This got me into serious trouble when I carved my first signature stamp...  Basically, you need to carve out as much as the pumpkin flesh as possible from under the pumpkin skin around the actual hole you're making in the pumpkin.  That way, more light can actually get through the pumpkin.  Otherwise you're making a tunnel for which the light cannot escape.
So the candle is inside the pumpkin - more light can escape when you make the hole/window as big as possible to let light out.

Anyways, here's what it looked light with my thanksgiving pumpkin:

Started at the top left because there was nothing too intricate here that would need me to start in the middle.

That large piece at the top right is the last thing I took out - that way, that flesh helps hold the rest still while carving. But have a look at the edge at the top left: see all that yellow flesh? That's because this cut wasn't undercut properly.  You should see very little yellow if you've undercut everything well - see for example the pumpkin in the centre/left of the image where you can see little to no yellow, which means lots of light gets through.

How to get good at this? Practice.  Practice, practice, practice.  Lots of pumpkins. Sam would be proud.

And that's it, you're done!  Well, just a couple last things to do... My favourite thing to do to pumpkins is in the next post :)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Pumpkin carving 107: transferring your stencil

Transferring a pumpkin stencil or pattern to the actual pumpkin is my least favourite part of the job.  If you have even a slightly detailed carve, you're sure to have a horribly cramped up hand after only a short while.

Unfortunately, it's one of the necessary evils of pumpkin carving and it must be done well if you want to be able to get a decent carve.


Here's the pattern on a typical 8.5" by 11" page - too big to even see the pumpkin, so tear off anything that isn't necessary.

Pin that bad boy on.  Interesting fact: pumpkins are round(ish), and paper is not.  Therefore, fold and pin wherever needed in order to get that stencil to lay as close as possible to the pumpkin (see the top right pin).

See the fold going from the middle up to the right?  That helps the pattern stay flat in a portion of the stencil that will be least affected by the fold.  Now, use your awl or other poker to start poking the transfer through.  Err on the side of the carved space when poking: here, you can see that my pokes are mostly in the grey area (the area that will be carved out).  This will make sure that the pieces that are going to be left are thick enough and won't get damaged during the carve.  Also, the smaller and more detailed, the shorter the distance you need between pokes.  So this little detail work here, lots of pokes, but around that top moon shape, they can be much further apart.

Once you are absolutely sure you've poked through everything (cuz there's no going back), remove the stencil.  You can see here, it's a little difficult to actually see those pokes...

So, to make the stencil show up better, cover in baby powder.  Here, you can see the distance between pokes in the more detailed areas is small which makes it easier to figure out when carving - but I saved my wrist on some of the larger cut areas, like the top right arch where there are bigger distances.
Whew.  That was the hard part.  Honestly.  And once you've got a great transfer, the rest is easy peasy... It'll all be told in the next post!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Pumpkin carving 106: scooping & shaving

Greetings again!  Hopefully your pumpkin isn't rotting as you're reading these... Don't carve your pumpkin until a day before!

Anyways, scooping out those pumpkins... Secretly, my favourite part.  There's something delightful about sticking your hand into a freshly cut pumpkin and gushing your fingers through the wet, stringy mess inside... And trying to grab as many of the pumpkin seeds as possible as they slip and slide around in your grip...


Well, you know, tis the season.

So once you've taken your messy delights with the pumpkin, you need to start scraping all that mess out. 

A few things to keep in mind:

  • You don't actually have to do a very good job at this.  So long as you scrape the face you'll be carving and the bottom, you're done and good to go.
  • Shave down the face of the pumpkin you're going to carve really thin.  I try to get it down to about a centimetre (half inch) or so.
  • You don't need to shave the bottom of the pumpkin down that far, all you need to do is make it flat so that the candle has a good surface to sit steady on.
  • When shaving the inside of the face down, take a look at your stencil and ball park its size; make sure to shave down everywhere that the stencil is going to end up.
  • Use a spoon or a scraper that comes with carving sets to do the rough work, but when you want to really get things shaved right down, a melon baller is perfect.
  • Before you're done, make sure that the inside of the face side is pretty even. This is even more important with shaved-type pumpkin stencils.

Roughed in - you can see the side is quite thick when compared to the lip at the top.

Shaved down and in. The ridges are from the basic tool - almost done, shave it a little thinner and get it even.

Using the melon baller, hard at work making it even.

The thinner, the better (within reason).  When it is thin, it's easier to do the actual cutting and when you light the pumpkin up, more light gets through because there are shallower light tunnels. Unfortunately, you can't go back in after you carve the pumpkin to thin out these areas without risk of damaging your carving, so get it nice and thin right from the start.

Next post, the transfer.  How I long for a quick transfer method like we have for stamps...