Monday, December 28, 2009

Bad Year for Pets

I am extremely saddened today to announce the passing of a true and loyal companion, a beautiful soul inside and out, a friend to the end. RIP GILLbert Grape.

That's right, friends, I came into my office today to find that my gorgeous purple beta fish had passed away. I don't know the cause of his demise, though I had noticed that he had spent several days acting rather sluggish and even a little depressed. (Must have been pretty defined for me to notice anything different than the normal, lazy beta attitude.) That and he had not been waiting for me at the glass wall of his bowl as I walked to my chair like he usually did, begging to be fed. In fact, he hardly touched his food when I fed him. Maybe he missed all of the doting that my co-workers at my last office showered on him. Maybe he didn't care for his new spot near the window with a grand view of the neighborhood behind my office complex. I suppose he might have had a fear of heights, being a fish and all. Maybe the people whose house my office looks down on made too much noise for him. They do have a tendency to play music awfully loud, and sit in their trucks revving the engines for ridiculously long periods of time. And water does amplify sound (doesn't it?). Maybe he was just old.

Whatever his ailment, I guess it's safe to say he was probably on his way out. Not that I am really complaining too much. I did have him for nearly three years, which is pretty impressive for a beta. He had a good, long, pampered, spoiled run of it. I will miss him, though. It's nice to know there is someone, (or something), loyal to you no matter what happens in this crazy world of ours. Even if he was only loyal because I was the one who fed him. But I won't go down that negative road. No, I think I will just be happy I had his company for a while, and hope he has an even more pampered, spoiled time in fishy heaven.

Man, this has not been a good year for my pets, has it?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Merry Christmas Now

Based upon the fact that I heard soooooo much about my Christmas greeting being posted in February last year, I thought I would beat the criticism and post today. I thought one day late was better than 2 months. Be forewarned, though, I have about 6 months worth of drafts started, and until those are caught up you will have to scroll backwards through my blog to see the "new" posts. Sorry, that is just how things have gone this last year.

Well, it's probably not any surprise to anyone that I have had a very difficult time finding the Christmas Spirit this year. Selfish, maybe, but so much has happened in my life this last year that I have found it hard to really feel the meaning of the season. I do realize that I have been pretty self-absorbed recently, and that realization didn't really help matters much. Aside from that, all the stress that seems to go along with being an adult at Christmas time makes finding that spirit more difficult. (I don't know about you, but I don't remember Christmas being this much work as a kid. I know, it's because it wasn't. Sometimes I think I would like to go back to the wonder and excitement that came with Christmas, without all the work!) And it didn't help any that I offered to host Christmas dinner this year. Our first Christmas dinner at our house. Of course I had to go all out. We got out our china and crystal. The stuff we got for our wedding over 12 years ago and have never, ever, used. Imagine my surprise (and frustration) to find that though I was SURE we had service for 12, we only had service for 10. And our china pattern has been discontinued. Not to mention that we found two of our crystal water goblets are chipped. If I'm not mistaken, that crystal pattern has also been discontinued. And that was just the beginning of the day.

I really won't go into all of that, because that was not really the reason for my post. By the time I FINALLY went to bed last night, I was thankful for the day. Even for the frustrations and the clashes, the disappointments and the failings, the crying children and the screaming adults. Because in the end, I know that there are people out there who aren't nearly as lucky as I am, who don't have anything but the clothes on their backs, who don't have friends and family to help them and care for them, who don't have anything at all to eat and no prospect for the next meal. I am vastly fortunate, I am thankful for all that I have, and thankful for the opportunity to spend the day surrounded by friends and family, even if remembering the reason for such a day was difficult. I went to bed last night happy.

And I hope for you. I hope that you, too, were able to find your Christmas Spirit, to slice through all the fluff, the nonsense, the stress and difficulties, and be thankful for what you have when so many others have so little. I hope that you were able to remember the reason for the season, and hope you had a very Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My LittleOne

Today our family lost our wonderful kitty of 12 years. We found out in July that she was suffering from a condition that would most likely cause her kidneys to shut down, if they hadn't already. While there were several options to attempt to treat the condition, all of them came with side-effects that could make matters worse, and none of them had a more than 20% chance of actually resolving the problem. In fact, two of the options would require expensive medicines and treatments that would be needed for the rest of her life, really only prolonging the inevitable, and most of the treatments were not recommended for a "senior" cat - which equates to 7 years old or older. Ours would have been 13 in December. In the end, we opted to do nothing, to enjoy the time we had left with her and hope that she went peacefully. Here is a picture of her just a few days after the diagnosis:

She had already lost a great deal of weight at this point, and we didn't expect she would last much longer. Slowly she stopped eating, and was seldom drinking anything. Soon, she was spending all of her time hiding under our bed, and we only saw her when we checked to make sure she was still doing ok. At those times she would come out, purring like mad, and wobble her way into my lap, loving the attention even though I'm sure she had no idea where she was. She became nothing but a skeleton, and it finally became apparent this week that it was time. My husband took her to the vet - I couldn't handle it. He called to tell me she went peacefully, and that he was with her, holding and petting her. She purred her way into kitty heaven. We will miss her so.

Here are a few cute pictures of her from the last few years:
This was taken not long after I brought her home, with Yellow Kitty. Now you see why we called her LittleOne instead of her real name. And this was after she had grown a bit! She was so tiny! When she purred, she sounded like a VW Bug - the old style. My husband thought we should have named her Bug.
My two babies. Taken shortly after we brought Sweetpea home. She was so very curious about Sweetpea. How little did she understand how Sweetpea would torture her later in life!
This was taken just a few months ago. I just happen to walk into the family room and see this nap session. Of course, then it was "Get the camera! Quick! Where is it?? Before they move! SHHHHH, you'll wake them!!" Luckily they didn't move before I was able to snap the picture. Do you think it was a comfortable position? :)

Pets are such a big part of our lives, and owning them makes them part of the family. I'm sad that we lost our friend, but I'm thankful we had her in our lives. Rest in peace, sweet LittleOne. We love and miss you already!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Kitchen Ballet

So the other night my poor husband had a small mishap in the kitchen. Admittedly, this little accident was partially my fault, though I refuse to take full blame for the incident. After all, I did warn him. Ok, wait. Let me back up and tell the story properly.

We decided we would have Orange Honey Mustard chicken for dinner - a quite yummy dish well liked by everyone I've ever served it to - except my 5-year-old. (If anyone wants the recipe, let me know. I'd be glad to send it your way.) Unfortunately, this particular recipe calls for baking the chicken on a cookie sheet with sides. This is only unfortunate because right now I don't have a cookie sheet with sides on it. I threw out the last one because it was a beat up piece of crap (and it wasn't more than a couple of years old.) So now I'm left with the two Airbake (or something like that) cookie sheets we got for a wedding gift over 12 years ago. Have you seen these? They appear to be two sheets of steel welded together, the top sheet having the traditional smooth surface you would expect to find on a cookie sheet. The second sheet (aka bottom of the pan) has these large round indentations in it. I really have no idea why. I think maybe they intended for air to be "trapped" in the indentations which would somehow prevent your cookies from burning. All I know is, they suck for baking cookies on. They take FOR-EVER (picture Squints in "The Sandlot") to bake all the way through. I've had more than one batch come out raw in the middle. And the sheets have no sides whatsoever, except maybe if you count a sort of bent up lip at the back, which I assume is there for easy retrieval from the oven. But they certainly last forever. I'll give them that. We really need a new set of cookie sheets. With sides on them. But being that I'd like to have a really nice set that will last another 12+ years. I have not been willing to break down and give my favorite store to hate, Wal-Mart, more of my money for a cheapo set. So, we make due with sideless.

Anyway, what's really the bad part about making this recipe on sideless pans is, the chicken produces a lot of juice/grease as it bakes (as does all types of baking chicken) that ends up dripping off of the pan either when you move it or before, and starts burning. This creates smoke. Lots and lots of smoke. And/or when you remove the pan from the oven, the juice splashes all over the stove top or counter top where you place it. Or on the floor. Which is what happened in this instance. (You can see this coming, can't you?)

In this particular preparation I decided to try to build sides onto the pan with tinfoil. An inspired plan - had it actually worked. The recipe calls for covering the pan with tinfoil anyway, though I'm not sure why. It does nothing to keep the pan clean, as the tinfoil is not wide enough to cover any pan fully. Even if you overlap the layers of tinfoil deeply, the grease still manages to seep in between the layers and soil your pan. But, whatever the reason, the recipe calls for it, and you know me and following the directions. So I covered the pan. I simply made the tinfoil wider than necessary, and formed short walls on three sides of the pan. Brilliant. Or so I thought.

As I watched the chicken bake, it looked like my plan was working. I couldn't see any grease dripping down in the oven, and there was no smoke. All was looking good. When it was time to take the chicken out of the oven, I made my first mistake. I thought I could move the pan with less caution than I usually used, because my tinfoil fortress seemed to be working. So, I picked up the pan and closed the oven door. As I turned to my right to put the pan on the counter top, I moved just a bit too quickly. Chicken juice flew out of the corner of the pan, apparently from under the tinfoil corner, in a centrifugal wave that sparkled ever so slightly in the air as the kitchen lights struck it, before coating the floor in a greasy, slippery puddle that stretched in an arc from in front of the oven, across the walkway between the island and the refrigerator and in front of the island. The beauty of such a splash was only spoiled by the immediate explosion of every swear word in the book from my mouth, which caused Sweetpea to come running to find out what was wrong. She thought it was pretty funny that it was mom who made a mess instead of her.

At that point I simply did not want to get the mop out, since by the time I was finished cleaning up the mess, our dinner that had just been made would have gotten cold. Instead, I just simply took a dishcloth and, using hot water and several trips to the sink to wash the grease out of the dishcloth, wiped up the mess. I knew I was not getting all of the grease off of the floor, so I warned Sweetpea that she must step over this area when walking through the kitchen, or not come through the kitchen at all. I thought I would just mop up the floor after dinner.

When my husband came in from the back yard, I warned him that he should be careful, as I had spilled chicken juice/grease on the floor. I told him I had wiped it up, but it was probably still slippery. I know he heard me, and I know he tried to avoid the mess. But somehow in the moving about in the kitchen necessary to get the rest of dinner with all the trimmings on the table, he managed to step right in the worst part of the mess - right in front of the oven. Regardless of the fact that he had shoes on (which may have hurt him more than helped), his foot slipped right out from under him, and suddenly he was doing a ballet move that belonged in Swan Lake. Luckily he did not fall down, and he did not drop anything that he was holding in his hands at the time. What he did do is nearly a full split, while still managing to stay on his feet. Ouch. It even made me cringe, so I can't imagine how much it hurt him. What was worse was that he was essentially stuck there. His feet were spread so far apart that he could not put enough weight on either one to bring himself back up into a full standing position, without them slipping the rest of the way out from under him. And because of the things in his hands, he could not reach out and grab the counter top for the stability needed to stand up. Likewise, he was afraid to move to reach out and put the items in his hands on the counter top, so that he could grab it to stabilize himself. He couldn't move.

After I managed to get over the initial shock at his position, I took the things from his hands and helped him to stand up, being careful not to slip myself. As he stood there, trying to recover enough from the pain of his position, Sweetpea decided she needed to correct her father's behavior. Out of the silence came her little chiding voice saying "Dad, it's really better if you step over these things, not in them. You could get hurt!" It was all I could do not to laugh out loud as I stood there supporting my poor husband, who looked as if he wanted to cry and laugh all at the same time. I guess in the future we'll just buy tickets to the real ballet, instead of staging our own.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Two Birthdays

Yesterday we celebrated not only the birthday of our wonderful nation, but the birthday of a friend's son as well. Ok, so we didn't really celebrate with them, since we had a prior commitment at my bil's house. I just helped them celebrate with a cake. Let me give a little background here. My husband recently made friends with a man who was in the process of relocating his family here from New York. He works for the LDS Church, and was transferred here. The only problem with that is he and his wife owned a house in New York. Unfortunately, due to the economic situation in our country right now, real estate is not selling. Or, not selling well, that is. So even though they put their house on the market immediately, it took a ridiculous amount of time to sell. The result was that he had to move here alone to start the new job, and leave his wife and their three children in New York to complete the school year and the sale of the house. Finally, after much waiting, and price reducing, and, of course, fighting (you can imagine the strain that would put on a marriage), the house sold.

So then, after struggling with the moving company for several weeks to get everything boxed up, packed up and moved out, he flew to New York to drive his family across the country to their new home. My understanding is they made the trip in three days. Yikes. Three days in the car, all day, every day. With three kids, the oldest of which is 11. I’m still wondering how they survived that trip. Because it’s not like they were on vacation and had fun, interesting stops along the way. Like Cousin Eddie's house. I’m reminded of National Lampoon’s Vacation….

Anyway, we saw them the evening they arrived here, before they’d even been to their new house, which is only about five minutes from our house. They stopped to pick up some things we stored for them while they were away. I swear I have never seen two people look more beat-down tired and utterly worn out than those two did. And with good cause. I’m still wondering how they were even on their feet after a journey like that. We made plans to meet for dinner later that week, which ended up being Friday night.

Let me just throw in here, that she is a fellow on-the-side cake decorator. I keep hearing wonderful things about the Halo cake she made for her oldest son's birthday last year, though I have yet to see a picture. So, at dinner we found out that their youngest son, the middle child, had a birthday on July 4th. Because all her tools and pans were packed up, and because of lack of time, she was just planning on buying him a cake from the store rather than making one. Oh the horror!!! I could NOT let her do that, so I volunteered to make him a cake. That’s right, I volunteered to make and decorate a cake in less than 24 hours. Yes, I realize I’m crazy. This is just one more affirmation of that fact. And as further affirmation, they did not want me to do it. They kept saying there was no need to go out of my way like that, that a store-bought cake would be perfectly acceptable. But, being so repulsed by the idea of this poor child having to suffer with a store-bought cake on his birthday, I insisted I could manage it without as much effort as they thought it would be. Right. So, this is what I came up with:


Not too terribly bad for such short notice, huh? Ok, so yeah, I see the mistakes too. And I realize the pictures aren't so great. But hey, at least the kid didn’t have to have a cake from some grocery store bakery that probably has been sitting in the display case for so long it is older than he is, or been featured multiple times on cakewrecks.com. And, he got the kind of cake he wanted. White cake with strawberry cheesecake filling. My first attempt at a cheesecake filling, and of course I made too much. What's the downside, you ask? Not a damn thing. The extra is currently in a tupperware in my fridge. Where's that spoon I just had a second ago?

*ahem* Anyway, I didn't really think that anything at all could be learned from a cake that was researched, designed, planned, made, decorated and delivered in such a short amount of time. I was most definitely mistaken:

1. There is such a thing as too much filling in a cake. Really. I'm so not kidding. It's true! Ok, so I didn't believe it either. Then I made this cake. As you can see from the pictures, too much filling results in the eventual squishing out (professional-sounding, isn't it?) of the filling from between the layers, as the weight of the cake settles down upon itself. Note to self:use less filling or a lighter cake. Additional note to self: less cheesecake filling in the cake means more on the spoon...

2. Red icing in a tube from the store works great in a pinch for "red glare"- and doesn't taste all that bad either! It's most definitely better than trying to match the color to red fondant, and when all you're using it for is a single border, well, the drawbacks certainly fade in the memory. Remind me, why don't I like that stuff again?

3. Pearl luster dust works really well for that "star-spangled" pizazz. Unfortunately it just doesn't show well in photography. Well, my photography anyway. Have I mentioned how much I love this stuff? Maybe it's come up a time or two.

4. Blue luster dust works relatively well for making that "blue-blooded" American cake shine. Again, not so great in photography. But then, when you are using toothpick sparklers for rockets' red glare, the chances of seeing the shine are pretty slim anyway.

5. Toothpick sparklers work great in a pinch for fireworks. Or "rockets' red glare", whichever your preference. Well, yeah, they're kind of cheesy. But the cake would've looked pretty dang empty without them, don't you think?

As it turns out, I guess I only had time to learn five things with this one. Hmmmm. Note to self: truncated timetable = truncated learning scale. And I needed that information. I'm sure I did...

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Vegas Vacation

Many stories to tell from our trip to Vegas, but no time to tell them in. So, to appease you for now, this is what I will do: I will break my normal, self-imposed rule of "No pictures-only posts", and put up a pictures-only post. Fortunately I finally figured out how to do a slide show of pictures, so you get two slide shows instead of endless photos on one post, but sorry, they are not fancy and contain no commentary. You'll just have to figure it out for yourself. :-) The first is all pics of our visit to Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum at the Venetian. The second is pics of the rest of our trip. Enjoy!


Monday, June 29, 2009

The Motorcycle Cake

Let me tell you a little about my brilliant idea to agree to a cake due the day before we were scheduled to leave for vacation. Then again, the cake itself wasn't my idea. In fact, the customer wanted it for one week later, which was a complete impossibility given our planned vacation. I thought the brilliant idea was to tell the customer that I could manage either the 20th or over 4th of July weekend, but not the 27th. I assumed that she would simply go elsewhere being that her husband's birthday was the 27th, and then I wouldn't have to turn the job down. Instead, she agreed that the 20th would work. Damn! Well, the best I can say is at least it was a cake I would actually make a profit from. For a change.

But, as all my cakes have a tendency to do, as I got further along in the project, the cake became more complicated. The customer - I'm referring to her as that because this is actually the first person I've made a cake for that I did not know personally in some way: she was a co-worker of a friend of a friend...of sorts - wanted a Harley Davidson cake, since her husband owns one. I immediately asked if the cake absolutely had to be in the shape of a motorcycle, or if it could be Harley themed instead. I was a bit soured by my prior cake carving experience. Luckily, she agreed that it did not have to be a carved cake. She also said that it did not have to be Harley, it could just be motorcycle themed. So I began my search for a motorcycle cake. As it turned out, this type of cake is relatively popular, and I found plenty of ideas for great cakes. I was trying to keep things simple to cause myself the least bit of heartache and pain as possible. But the further I searched, the more awesome (and highly embellished) ideas I found. Finally, this is what the end result turned out to be:

I should note that the first pic was taken by the customer, and is used with her permission.

The top layer was strawberry with chocolate ganache filling and iced in strawberry buttercream, and the bottom was white almond sour cream cake filled and iced with almond buttercream. The studs and chain were made from gum paste, all other accents were fondant. The chain, studs and flames were painted with metallic glaze, and I used food writers on the skulls. The motorcycle was a toy. (What?? You think I'm crazy enough to try and sculpt a motorcycle out of some edible medium, including painting it, in between working, dealing with a five-year-old and preparing for my first real vacation in 10 years?? Well, I think you can fill in the blanks in that little scenario on your own, thankyouverymuch.) The motorcycle and the maroon colors used in the cake were chosen because the birthday boy's Harley is maroon. The studs were also used because his Harley has silver studs around the seat and saddle bags (assuming that is what they are called. I'm not up on motorcycle lingo!) These were the only ways I could come up with to try to personalize the cake more, since it had no writing on it.

There were a few things involved with this that were new to me. First, the gum paste. I have never used it before, so it was a completely new experience. (And based on that, I am seriously considering taking a gum paste class from Wilton.) Also new was the metallic glazes. I really liked these, though I am not used to having to allow that much time for drying. So, working with new materials always causes difficulty. My biggest difficulty? Well, you guessed it. The chain of course. As it turned out, I was able to find a mold for the studs, so they were not so hard at all. But I had the worst time trying to figure out how to make that stupid chain. I ended up molding it by hand, with each link in two pieces, allowing it to dry, then putting the pieces together and "linking" the chain. And of course, like always, I didn't plan for enough time. I ended up calling the customer to get an extension on the deadline of about an hour. She was an additional 20 minutes late picking it up, and I still only just finished it not two seconds before she rang the doorbell. Whew! We did manage to get pictures, but my husband took them, and unfortunately he didn't take them from an elevated vantage point. So I had to get the other pics from the customer. Good thing she took some! So, on to my learned list!

1. While gum paste can be used to accomplish essentially the same things as fondant, it behaves quite differently, (i.e. powdered sugar dusted on hands and work surface does not assist in the ease of molding gum paste. Instead it dries it out faster. Vegetable oil should be used instead.)

2. Dried out gum paste cracks and crumbles and absolutely DOES NOT cooperate.

3. Silver/Gold glaze prevents royal icing from sticking to gum paste. It is best to apply glaze after assembling any gum paste creation that requires royal icing to hold it together, (i.e. gum paste chains).

4. Hot glue works quite well in assembling glazed gum paste chains.

5. It is very important to point out to your customer anything on the cake that is not edible, (i.e. hot glued gum paste chains).

6. Measuring the amount of gum paste chain needed to go all the way around the bottom of a cake layer is a good idea to prevent making a gum paste that is just one link too short.

7. Maroon is a combination of red and brown. Who knew?

8. Maroon is as difficult to make from white icing as pure red and black. Must be the red involved?

9. It is extremely difficult to customize a motorcycle cake to an individual or individual motorcycle without actually carving a motorcycle cake.

10. Toy Harley Davidsons, however, are everywhere, and finding one to match an individual motorcycle is a piece of cake, as it were.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Dreaded Three

You know how they always say that bad things happen in threes? I think they mean that bad things happen in multiples of threes. At least, they do in relation to me. I zoomed right past three along time ago and moved on to 6...9...12... Seriously, what is the deal this past year? Enough!

I'm sure you're all wondering what in the world I could be ranting about this time. Haven't I had just about everything that could possibly go wrong with one person happen to me in the last several months? Haven't already got enough to complain about? Apparently not. Someone thought I needed a little more. At the beginning of this month I was informed I will be laid off at the end of September. My office is merging with another, and there are only attorney positions for two. Right now, between the two offices, there are three attorneys. I didn't make the cut. I won't go into all the details associated with that, because there are a lot of emotions and hurt feelings right now, a few I'm sure I will never get over. Or, at least, it will take a lot of years and a certain unmentionable place to develop a nasty ice storm before I get over them. But the bottom line is, as of the end of September, I will be unemployed.

Or will I? As it turns out, I appear to be in relatively high demand, considering. The bankruptcy field in the area of debtors' counsel is, shall we say, booming right now. Not a big surprise considering the state of the U.S. Economy at this point. However, Utah has been a bit behind the rest of the country, and the increase in bankruptcy filings seen across the rest of the U.S. is just now affecting us. That equates to the need for additional, experienced attorneys who can practice exclusively as debtors' counsel. Hey! That's me!

So, I found out about this unfortunate turn of events on a Friday. Needless to say, I did not finish out the day. Instead I sped as fast I could - without getting thrown in jail - straight home and right into the arms of my wonderful husband who had the presence of mind to know that he need not panic, I was doing enough of that for the both of us. (On a side note, here, I just have to say thank you to him for being uncharacteristically calm and collected about the issue of possible shortage of funds on which to live, when I'm positive on the inside he was having a worse mental breakdown than I was. I don't deny I'm lucky! Love you, hon!) Anyway, on my way out of the door that day I began making phone calls. I did not intend to spend more than one second longer than I had to unemployed, regardless of what compensation I may receive for the "no fault" termination of my employment. I called friends who are in the same field and who I knew would have the skinny on any possibilities out there. And while they themselves were not hiring, all offered condolences (and disappointment, since part of the result was the increased difficulty in their jobs) and promised to keep their ears to the ground for me. I spent the weekend fielding calls from friends and family checking on my mental well-being, and trying to convince myself that I was not directly the cause of this event, regardless of what other things I was led to believe.

By Monday I had worked myself into a sleep-deprived, caffeine overloaded, nervous wreck. That was not a fun day to return to the job. At first. But
, I had only been at work for about an hour and a half, when the phone calls began. It seems a good friend of mine posted a fabulously complimentary post about me on the online group forum used by debtors' counsel, letting the majority of that Bar know that I am a victim of the merger. By that afternoon another friend of mine, whom I've told should actually be working for missing persons since he knows everyone, called to find out what was going on. He was one of the first I had called the previous Friday, so he knew about the situation, but he said his phone had exploded with calls, voicemails and texts asking what had happened and expressing shock and rage at the situation. Over the next week I was literally inundated with phone calls, emails and face-to-face conversations filled with disbelief and apologies. You have no idea what something like this can do to soothe a broken self-image. And while such things have slowed down since the initial "announcement", I still receive daily comments in one form or another. I have gotten to the point, in fact, that I am overwhelmed (and humbled) by all the sentiment being sent my way. I had expected a few unhappy people, mainly my friends in the business, but I did not expect the overall constant of disappointment, unhappiness and outright anger that has been expressed to me, only part of which I'm sure I deserve.

But, in the midst of all this, I have also received several job offers. In the first week after the news, I had three lunch meetings, two of which have resulted in offers. I have since had two more offers and had two more approach me "to talk". I have been described as an "expert", "competent help in high demand" and, if you can believe this one "prime real estate in the bankruptcy world". LOL! No, I did not take offense to the last one, since it was meant as a compliment and I knew what they were trying to say. It just struck me as funny. Regardless, such compliments and the reaction of utter shock and disbelief of my colleagues, right down to my toughest and most ruthless opponent, have provided the strength I've needed to keep returning to work until I've decided where else to be.

I have made sure that those looking to hire me understand that with this ordeal, my priorities have taken a 180. My family comes first. I have no intention of jumping into a bad situation out of desperation, panic or fear. I intend to consider all offers and possibilities, and will only accept the one that fits the needs of my family and myself in the best possible way. I feel I have the opportunity to be choosy, and I intend to take it. Everyone who has approached me has understood that and the position I'm in, which I'm grateful for as well.

In the meantime I continue to work where I am, though the stress is most definitely getting to me. I did manage to spend a whole week on our vacation to Vegas (that we just got back from yesterday) and not think about work once. A miracle all in itself. Unfortunately I had to go in to work today (yes, on a Sunday) to prepare for hearings tomorrow. I walked through the door and felt all the angst and all the stress literally seep back into my body. Every day it seems I find something else to be angry at. So, the sooner I make my decision, the better off I'll be. But I'm not rushing things, just trying to deal with the emotions in the interim.

How can I be upbeat about all of this, you ask? Don't be fooled; it's just a facade - pronounced "fu kayd". (Enter in scene from "My Fellow Americans". :-) ) But at least I can find some humor in it. Right before we left on vacation, I couldn't decide if things were getting better or worse. Instead of a job offer, I had a colleague offer me the number for his therapist. No joke. I actually still have her card around here somewhere....

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Mona

My husband sent me a picture today of my daughter while they were goofing around at a display at the local library:

Isn't she beautiful? Da Vinci never had a better model. My little Mona Lisa. LOL!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Bridal Fair 2009

In April my sister asked me to come home and help her with a Bridal Fair being held in our hometown. She has finally decided to take the dive and start making wedding cakes should the occasion come about. This was also her first official "advertisement" of her cake and cookie bouquet making for sale. Prior to this, all her business has been word of mouth only. A little bit scary, but exciting nonetheless. So, I spent about six weeks bombarding my poor guinea pig coworkers with cake experiments to obtain more feedback on the cake flavors my sister intended to sample at the Fair. Not that they complained any. Except maybe for the few extra pounds most of them were sure they were going to put on. Hey, totally not my fault. I asked for volunteers only. I never pried open their mouths and jammed the cakes down their throats! Anyhoo, out of the experiments I got a FABULOUS pina colada cake (used in the Luau Cake), a decent chocolate orange cake made better by further experimentation, and a, and I quote, "sexiest thing I've ever tasted" chocolate cake with raspberry cheese filling. I also found that Tres Leche cake, while rather yummy, is not a good cake for decorating. It's tough to decorate a cake that is basically wet, and sitting in a pool of liquid. But that's what the experiments were for.

Soon the weekend of the Fair arrived. I took the Friday before off, (since it was my sister's birthday), and Sweetpea and I rode home with my mom Thursday night, who was in town for a doctor's appointment. The plan was for my husband to come on Saturday so we would only have one car for the trip back. (Unfortunately my husband did not make it, since the roads ended up being closed for most of Saturday - surprise, surprise - but that's another story.) I helped my sister prepare Friday and into the wee hours of the morning Saturday morning. Unfortunately we had to be up early to set up at the Fair on Saturday morning, so staying up very late turned out to be a bad idea. Plus, it was quite some time after we got to the Fair venue before we were able to get any coffee. I'm such a bear in the morning without my daily coffee fix!! But sometimes that's just the way the cake crumbles. Here are the displays that she put together (I can't take credit, I just helped):




The cakes were actually cake dummies - MUCH easier to decorate. You can see the sample cakes behind the close up of the crystal cake. Which is a story all by itself. If you'll notice behind the red cake display there appears to be a kitchen area with an island. That's important, keep that in mind. When we got to the hotel where the Fair was being held, we were unhappy to find that the tables that were supposed to be set up for us weren't. My sister had requested one of the 20 foot tables. Instead there were two small, round tables set up. Not nearly enough space for everything we had to display. It took over half an hour to find the person in charge and get the mistake corrected, leaving us with little time to complete our set up. And when the appropriate people were located, and the mistake addressed, they acted like they had no clue why we could not set up two cake table displays, plus an area for business cards, pictures and information sign-up, plus an area for the samples AND an area for cutting the sample cakes, on two round banquet tables that would barely seat six people apiece. Gee, tough one to figure. After much debate, they agreed to change out our set up to what was actually requested.

So, after the problem was remedied, we still did not have a place to cut the sample cakes. Since they had set up our other tables to extend out in front of the kitchen area, we assumed that the island in that kitchen area would be free, and we could cut the cakes there. We placed the sample cakes and supplies on the island and grumpily went about setting up the rest of our display. Keep in mind that at this point, both my sister and I had been up for about 4 hours, with only about 4 hours of sleep and NO coffee. Not people who should probably be working a function where the sale of a product/services to the public is to take place. Soon, along comes a woman we had not seen before. We didn't know who this woman was, or what her position in the Fair was. As far as we knew, she was working somewhere in the Fair but was not one of the organizers. All of a sudden she said to me "You're going to have to clear off these cakes." She was referring to the sample cakes set up on the island. She was speaking directly to me, and did not see my sister standing behind her.

I just looked at her like she had demonstrated that she was a complete and total idiot, and said, "What?"

She said, "There is going to be a vendor set up in the kitchenette, so you will have to move these cakes." Excuse me? A vendor? Behind our booth? I just stood there looking at her like I was ready to murder her. Maybe not so far off, actually...

About that time my sister spoke up behind her, and said "Where exactly are we supposed to cut our sample cakes? We were told there would be room for that." The woman jumped as if my sister had punched her in the back of the head or something. She stood back to find my sister staring at her with the same murderous look on her face as I had. She mumbled something about getting us another table and scurried away as if she was running for her life. Ok, again, maybe not so far off.

We continued on with our set up until one of the organizers of the Fair appeared at our booth. She said she would bring another table for us to set up the cakes on, but that it would have to be behind our booth in order to not further block the vendor that would be set up in the kitchenette. Ok, fine, WHATEVER! My sister just told her to bring the table. It didn't occur to us at all that "behind our booth" meant dead center in front of the complimentary coffee bar offered by the hotel for their guests. Once the first person came to get coffee, and reached over our cakes in the process, I gritted my teeth and once again went after the organizers, informing them that THIS was NOT going to work and they needed to FIX IT NOW. It was only a few seconds before the contents of the entire coffee bar had been moved to a spare counter in the kitchenette.

Unfortunately all this nonsense put us incredibly behind in our set up, and we did not finish with the cutting of the sample cakes until half an hour after the Fair had begun. Luckily, traffic in the Fair was very light for the first hour or so. Unluckily, the total turnout was much less than we had anticipated, and the confirmed appointments my sister received far fewer than we had hoped. It is unlikely she will participate in this particular Fair next year, should they choose to have it. It doesn't seem worth the entrance fee. Though I must admit that once the beginning fiasco was straightened out, the Fair became very interesting. We had a few perplexing questions from Fair patrons that we just weren't sure how to answer. My favorites included: "So what is it your business does?" and "Do you make wedding cakes?" Nope, these decorated cakes and cake samples are just for show. We're actually a "make your own crystal and candles" business on a crusade to put Mikasa and Salt City Candles out of business.... Seriously? I mean come on people!

Just another demonstration of my belief that common sense is really not so common.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Steps Toward a Cure

It just occurred to me that I completely forgot to post about the May 9th Susan G. Komen Race For the Cure I participated in this year! Too many other things going on, I guess. Anyway, my sil asked me a couple of weeks before the race if I wanted to participate. Since I was planning on being in town, and had no pending cakes to make, I told her I definitely wanted to join in. Unfortunately we did not get signed up until about a week and a half or so prior to the Race. That left little to no time to fund-raise. I admit, though, that I had not intended to fund raise too much anyway. But, when we were signed up, we received a link to our own webpage within the Race's page to allow us to raise funds online. Totally awesome! I decided maybe I'd try a little. I set up my page settings and attached a picture of Mom, dedicating my walk to her:

I sent out the email to everyone in my email address book, to everyone at my work, posted it on my Facebook status, and emailed it to my additional Facebook contacts. I figured that was enough, if anyone wanted to contribute, they would. And if not, no big deal. (Mom also forwarded my email on to the people in her address book, so I did have a little extra help.)

I was more than pleasantly surprised, and at times moved to tears. There were more donations than I ever expected at all, let alone with such short notice. Many of those donating sent messages along with the donations, and it was these that caused me to be so emotional. There were words of encouragement and support, and one special one of pride that meant more than the sender will ever know. When all was said and done, I raised over $600 all by my little lonesome. I fully intend to walk again next year, and will sign up ahead of time so I have a little more time to get the message out. I think with more time, I may have had more money raised by the time the Race rolled around.

I was a little nervous about the Race, most especially because of how terribly and totally out of shape I am, despite any attempts otherwise (yes, I call once an attempt!) But, I realized that while it is called a Race, it's not really a race at all. If I crossed the finish line, it wouldn't really matter in what place I crossed. Plus, I knew it could be walked, running was not a requirement. And lastly, I would be walking with my sils, so I knew I would have not only distraction but encouragement as well. And, as icing on the cake, we were only talking about a 5k walk (3.1 miles). Not so bad, even for the woefully flabby.

The Race was schedule to start at 8:30 a.m., and was being held downtown. Any of you who know what parking is like downtown know that it's 10 times as bad with an event happening. I decided it would be better to take the train and arrived at the platform an hour and a half before the start of the Race. Unfortunately, I was wrong in this regard. Many, many, MANY of the other racers thought the same thing. By the time we actually reached downtown, the train was so packed full that if someone breathed too hard it would have had disastrous results. In addition, so many people trying to take the train made the train late. I arrived somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes after the start of the Race. So, I learn for next year - take the train REALLY early, or drive. The end.

I was pleased to find that one sil had arrived just as the Race began, and the other sil somehow managed to be on the same train with me somewhere (without us knowing it). So I was not the last to arrive. And it did make me feel better to know there were others starting the Race behind us. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that my fil and nephews were joining us for the Race as well:
Next year we make it a family event. Anyway, we finally started the Race and went on our way. It wasn't too grueling, but not all that easy for me, and I was a little sore the next day. Here are a few more pics:

Me, Nancey and the nephews at the start.

My nephew at the Mile 1 marker.

An attempt at capturing the sheer number of people participating in the Race. These were those in front of us that had not yet finished.

Attempt #2.
Good pic of my nephew, but really, was a pic of me from the back absolutely necessary? Geez!

Hoofin' our way along.

The crew at the Mile 3 marker. Almost done!

Over the finish line! Oh, you mean you were taking the pic now?? Wait, we weren't ready!

Ok, now we're ready! Oh, maybe not...

The crowd amassed at the Gateway after the conclusion of the Race...and these were just the ones that stuck around! Anyway, I do need to give credit: all but the first and last pics were taken by my sil, Tracy - used with her permission, of course! And also need to say thank you to all who donated on my behalf this year. The Race shattered its goal of $250,000. I believe the final number was around $274,000, with over 19,000 participants. Thank you for helping us take steps toward a cure for breast cancer!!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Go Colts!

Ok, so not really. I don't really watch much football, or have a favorite team. Occasionally college football, if Wyoming is playing and I'm in the mood. But really, since I married into a Boston family, I don't dare say I cheer for anyone but New England in the pros. That's liable to get me disowned. Or something like that. (We'll keep the fact that I don't really cheer at all to ourselves, won't we? Shhhhhh....)

Anyway, two weeks ago, I was commissioned by one of my co-workers to make a cake for her boyfriend's birthday. Unfortunately, she wanted the cake for one week later. That didn't really leave a whole lot of time for planning, but thankfully I did not have the same issue with her as I had with the Luau Cake. She knew almost exactly what she wanted, but still managed to give me a bit of creative license with the job. And what she wanted was a Colts cake. With a football on it. She also had the idea of a field, though I'm not sure she expected I'd really take it this far. But believe me, I had aspirations of taking things much farther. Unfortunately, a truncated timetable has the ability to wipe out such lofty aspirations. Or fortunately, I suppose, since I'm sure it was ultimately much better for me. But I digress. Here are the pictures of the final result:



I have major issues with the football, but I'll get to that. The cake was a half sheet cake in strawberry filled with strawberry whipped cream with fresh strawberries folded in. The football is made of rice krispies treats (rkt) covered in fondant. The lettering and small footballs are all fondant. Everything else is strawberry butter cream icing. Before any of you get too excited, I did not hand draw the lettering to match that of the Colts. I'm not that talented, and I have no intention of setting myself up as such! Imagine the cakes I'd be commissioned to make then! I'm giving myself heartburn just thinking about it! No, what I did instead is do a Google search for the Colts logo in order to make the horseshoe properly. When I searched, I stumbled across an entire alphabet (plus "Indianapolis Colts" spelled out) done in the same lettering. I simply printed the alphabet out, cut out the letters I would need, and used them as a template for the fondant. Worked wonders. Oh, and as an explanation, there is a #18 on the ball because that is Peyton Manning's number, and he is the birthday boy's favorite player.

As I said, the large football was made of rkt, which was a great idea in theory, but I felt lacking in execution. The reasons for that will be included below, in the things I learned list. But as a blanket statement, I don't like the football, and for me it ruined the rest of the cake. However, my co-worker was very pleased with the cake, and reported to me earlier this week that her boyfriend loved it as well (except, of course, for the fondant being "too sweet". Men!) And really, isn't that what really matters? Well, it's supposed to be, but I just don't know...

This cake was planned and executed so quickly, I don't have a lot to say about what I learned, but here's what I've got:

1. Apparently there is some secret trick for sculpting with rkt that only the truly talented or ultra privileged are privy to. Finding one of these people and using water torture on them until they spill the secret is on my to-do list.

2. When using rkt to sculpt, it is very important to work quickly. Working slowly will result in either burning your hands on the heat of the rkt, or the rkt cooling down too quickly to properly proportion the krispies through the sculpted piece, causing malformed sculptures, and rough or pitted surface areas. Both consequences are highly likely to occur.

3. One of two things must occur for the proper covering of sculpted rkt with fondant: either the surface of the rkt must be incredibly smooth, or the fondant must be rolled out thick enough to cover a rough rkt surface.

4. Rolled out fondant thick enough to cover a rough rkt surface does not exist in nature. Or in my kitchen. It's a figment of my imagination. Or a term of art. Or a legal fiction? I dunno, I just know it isn't out there.

5. While rkt seems like a good idea for a sculpted football, given a real football's rough and bumpy surface, failure to apply #2 above will result in larger bumps than necessary and produce something akin to your child's first clay project made for you in art class.

6. Small footballs made of fondant and iced with royal icing will require more than 24 hours to completely dry. Using footballs that have not fully dried will result in fondant footballs with fingerprints and indents on their sides.

7. Small fondant footballs are as heavy as fondant tires when attached to the side of a cake iced in butter cream frosting. The rediscovery of gravity with such footballs as your experiment paraphernalia will result in much swearing at, and throwing of, inanimate objects.

8. Toothpicks work just as well for keeping fondant footballs from sliding down the side of a cake as they do for fondant tires. Simply apply two, rather than one. Side note: application of only one toothpick will inevitably cause said footballs to rotate to either the right or the left prior to sliding down the side of the cake.

9. Brand new sheet cake pans with absolutely straight sides do not produce sheet cakes with straight sides. Discovery of such an anomaly will surely produce an enigma to perplex scientists throughout the world. For you, however, it will simply mean that the yard lines on your football field cake will not all be evenly spaced or necessarily perfectly straight.

10. White royal icing piped from a #1 or #2 tip onto green butter cream icing, in the process of drying, will be thin enough to absorb some of the green food coloring and therefore become green-tinged royal icing. Such phenomenon may not be noticeable to your client, but you will not be able to take your eyes off it.

In assistance with the problem created with #10, I find it best just to consider one of my many mantras: there's nothing I can do about it, so best not worry about it. A.k.a. - it doesn't matter, I don't care!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Sound of Silence

I have officially lost my voice. Completely. I started out at the beginning of the week with a little cold. No big deal, felt a little bad on Tuesday afternoon and knew I was getting sick. Wednesday I felt like crap. I still managed to be at work, but I felt terrible. I went home early and crashed on the couch. By Thursday morning I felt 100% better, and though it was obvious I still had the cold, it wasn't major enough for most people to notice.

At least, that is, until I spent nearly the entire day in the courtroom. That consisted of nearly 3 hours in the morning, and an additional 2 1/2 hours in the afternoon. Of that time, I would say I had a total of maybe a half an hour to 45 minutes where I wasn't speaking.
Around about hour 4, I noticed my voice starting to crack in the middle of sentences. Since I had been sick, and had been talking so much that day, I didn't really think much of it. I had my sips of water, and kept on my task.

About half an hour later, the strangest thing happened. I completed my presentation to the court on one case without much of a problem, with the occasional voice crackle. When the very next case was called, I stood to present to the court. As I started to speak, I realized that all of a sudden I sounded very much like a frog. The change was significant enough that upon the utterance of the first couple of words, the Judge looked up at me with such surprise on her face that it nearly threw my routine off. Through the remaining hour my voice became progressively worse, and I began to wonder if I was going to be able to finish out the day and still be able to speak. Luckily I was able to do so. However, by the time I got home my voice was unrecognizable. I thought maybe just a little rest and some fluids and I would be back to normal.


Unfortunately the dawning of Friday did nothing to assist my ever failing voice. I did start the day with a slight improvement, but the longer I used my voice throughout the day, the more quickly the improvement diminished. Several phone calls through the day from friends, family and colleagues resulted in quite a few comments, such as "You sound like s***!" and "OMG, what the @#$% happened to you?" and "Why the hell are you at work?" Don't I just have the most sympathetic friends? :-) By the end of the day I was down to nearly nothing in the voice department, and I headed home wondering what I would do for the rest of the weekend. I spoke very little that evening, trying to preserve whatever voice was left (something I'm sure Sweetpea appreciated, since I didn't have the ability to yell at her, either!)


Yesterday morning I woke to find that I literally could not make sound more than for every 5th or so word. And, each of the sounds I was able to make, sounded remarkably like the sudden, shrill, honking sound emitted by a party noise maker, obviously blown out of the blue at the most inappropriate time by someone with nothing to celebrate. By the end of the day I couldn't make any sound at all, something which has carried over into today. I don't know if any of you have experienced a complete loss of your voice before. If you haven't, let me try to describe. Imagine having one of those dreams where you try your hardest to scream at the top of your lungs - out of fear or anger or for help, whichever - and regardless of how hard you try, absolutely no noise comes out. Or maybe the one where you try to run away, but no matter how fast you run, you don't actually go anywhere. Or, my personal favorite, the one where you try desperately to hit someone as hard as you possibly can, but regardless of how much force you put behind your punches, you're never able to hit them hard enough to actually hurt them or sometimes to even disrupt their movements. Yes, I'm perfectly aware I have issues. What of it?? If you've ever experienced any of these dreams, or dreams of similar type, then you have experienced the total aggravation that comes with a complete loss of your voice. It makes no difference how hard I try to speak, I literally, physically, cannot make a sound.


What is more infuriating about this is getting people's attention. We went to dinner tonight with my husband's family. At first, the look on several of their faces when they found out I had no voice at all was pretty funny. But that soon turned to frustration. Trying to get people's attention so I could
whisper whatever I had to say to them over the din of a crowded restaurant was utterly ridiculous! I tapped people's shoulders, I raised my hands, I waived my napkin in the air like a surrender flag, I pounded on the table. At one point I had to clap at my sil to get her to even look at me. I got her husband's attention instead, who then told her I was trying to talk to her. I wasn't even able to tell her what I wanted to, she wasn't understanding what I was trying to say. After a while, I simply gave up. I'm sure everyone at the table appreciated that.

I have no idea what I'm going to do about work tomorrow. I don't have any court this week for several days, so I'm hoping by the time I have to go back there I will have a voice again. In the meantime, I can't take the time off since I desperately need to get caught up on other work that has been neglected due to my recently over-active court schedule. I suppose I will simply have to send an email to everyone in the office to let them know I can't take phone calls, and that they will have to come and see me to get any answers from me, rather than just buzzing into my office on the intercom. I wonder what they'll think about working with a mime. I always did have a flair for the dramatic.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Luau Cake

I was recently asked to do a cake for a friend of friends. Remember Brian? Well apparently this year was his wife Teresa's 30th birthday. He also decided to get her back with throw her a surprise party. This time there was a Luau theme. I must say, I'm oh so glad that my friends were so involved in the creation of this party, (right down to being able to send me a picture of the invitation!) because the order for this cake was phrased like so: "Luau themed, for around 30 people. Whatever price range Teresa had last year is fine. It doesn't matter what flavor." Yep, that gives me TONS of direction, there, thanks! Thankfully my friends came through and helped me with a little more direction on the way the cake was to go, and voila! There arrived a cake of such epic proportions, such elegance and taste, such obvious artistic talent.... ok, so there arrived a cake that was satisfactory to me, and impressed all involved:












I apologize for so many pictures. There were just lots of details on this cake (obviously) and it was incredibly difficult/impossible to get them all with one picture. I must admit, though, that I think this is probably the best cake I've made so far. Ouch!! Ok, ok, I said it, you can stop twisting my arm now!!! And let me just say that, due to the amount of time and work that went into this, in no way did I charge even CLOSE to enough for this cake, so I guess Teresa got an extra little present from me! :-)

Anyway, the details. This is a three tiered cake. The bottom is a single-layer white almond sour cream cake, iced (under the 'water') with almond butter cream. The middle tier is a double-layer pina colada cake with coconut butter cream filling. The top tier is a double-layer strawberry cake with milk chocolate ganache filling. The tiki hut is also cake, the same flavor as the top tier. The top two tiers are fondant covered, the bottom is fondant wrapped. All details are fondant. (Don't worry cake connoisseurs, I didn't use Wilton's boxed catastrophe. I used Satin Ice fondant. YUMMY!) The 'water' is piping gel colored blue over white icing. All the coral, fish, ice bucket, surfboard and boat were painted with pearl dust in varying shades. Everything on this cake is edible, except the 'poles' of the tiki torches and beach umbrella, and the seashells and fishing net on the cake board. I used blue cellophane to cover the already silver foiled cake board. I wanted to use something to make an actual sand-looking substance around the sign and on the beach, but ultimately decided it would be too difficult to attach any of the details to loose material. Despite a sunglasses collapse, and a mishap with top-heavy palm trees (a little too much in the coconuts, hehehe) which delayed pick-up by about 12 hours or so, most of this cake was not overly difficult, just time-consuming. And most of the consumed time was used determining a game plan for construction, rather than in execution of those plans.

Before I get too carried away, I promised to give credit where credit is due. My wonderful hubby made the surf board (though I painted it) and the majority of the bamboo. He also helped greatly with the construction of the cake - note the hack saw and dowel remnants on the table behind the cake! In addition, he acted as my creative consultant through the entire process. It was, in fact, his idea to name the boat after Teresa, and to place the shark's fin in pursuit of the snorkeler. (I'm told the latter was the birthday girl's favorite part.) Thank you, honey!! Love you!

Anyway, on to the fun part, where you all get to laugh hysterically at my mistakes, and say "duh" to my list of lessons:

1. When creating a cake such as this, one must be an engineer, an artist, a sculptor, a baker and possibly a candlestick maker. Ok, not a candlestick maker. But all the rest are definitely required, one or two alone will not do. If you are not these things, it is most helpful to have access to those who are. Or those who can pretend to be.

2. Pina Colada cake, while maybe one of the most delicious creations known to man, (*ahem* It's my own recipe. {cough, cough}), is too soft and moist to support a whole lot of weight stacked on top of it. It will collapse, causing the decorator to have to remove certain elements of decoration (such as unruly tiki huts that simply won't stand up straight) and reinforce the support of such elements with bamboo skewers and/or dowels. This cake flavor should only be used as a top tier, or in a single tiered cake.

3. Apparently providing a list of non-edible items included in the cake, along with the location of such items, is helpful in avoiding the skewering of the roof of a guest's mouth with a bamboo skewer. (Disclaimer: no guests were harmed in the making, or consuming as it were, of this cake. This particular scenario should be viewed as a precautionary warning using creative license. DOWN all you human rights activists, DOWN!)

4. When making fondant bottles of Coca-Cola, identification will be much aided by somehow adding the white Coca-Cola wave to the red fondant label. Otherwise, many, many people will mistake your ice bucket of Coke for Budweiser.

5. When finishing a cake with so much detail at 1:00 a.m. the morning of the (second) scheduled pick up, the last thing you will care about is whether they will know the teeny tiny brown fondant bottles with red fondant labels are meant to be bottles of Coke. Who cares?!? Let them think the stupid things are Budweiser! Let them think you are promoting drinking a bucket of beer on the beach!! LET THEM THINK IT'S MOUNDS OF RED AND BROWN GOO, FOR ALL YOU CARE!!!! *ahem*

6. Piping gel, when left uncovered, eventually hardens into a consistency just a bit tougher and "chewier" than that of Jell-O. Ok, quite a bit tougher and chewier than Jell-O. Therefore, it is important to place all intended items of decoration in or on piping gel in its desired place before the gel hardens. Any attempts to do so afterward will be futile, and will result in the cracking, tearing and ultimate displacement of the gel. (Kind of like it looks with you slo-o-o-o-o-wly tear Jell-O apart.)

7. Royal icing, while FABULOUS as a cake "glue", is best used in smaller amounts in order to conceal the fact that royal icing is being used as cake "glue".

8. Royal icing does not work well in attaching non-edible items to cake boards. Real glue may be a better solution. When in cake decorating mode, it will never occur to you that you can use real glue to attach non-edible items to the cake board.

9. If you do not own a small enough ball tool (used for fondant and gum paste creations, for softening flower petal edges and making rounded flower centers) for use on your teeny tiniest flowers, the clicky part of a clicky pen works almost as well. Almost.

10. When sculpting items from fondant, (I'm sure this applies to any sculpture), it is very important to remember where the center of gravity will be. This will make a huge difference in whether pieces meant to stand up will actually do so, or not. (Generally "or not" applies more often.) Sculpted items with a poor center of gravity will not only fall over, they will also collapse in on themselves, causing breakage (or more appropriately, shattering) of the sculpted item and tearing away any fondant on the cake to which it was attached.

And, to any of you who, at the very real risk of life and limb, may have the audacity to dare to ask such a thing, replicas of this particular cake creation will NOT be available in the gift shop. EVER. This ends our lesson for today, and thank you for visiting.

Pool Hunnies

Recently my sister, her husband and her children came to visit. Having chosen to delay their vacation to San Diego due to the swine flu (and the children's current colds and weakened immune systems), they decided to visit for a day or two during the time they would have been on vacation. Since they had promised the kids lots of swimming time while on vacation, they chose to stay at Little America, a downtown hotel with an indoor/outdoor swimming pool, rather than with us. Completely ok by me, since that meant we also got to enjoy the swimming pool with them for free!

Unfortunately two of the three children did not take too well to the swimming pool. Scoob and D.C. - formerly known as "Cupcake" - (my sister's kids) cried and clung to their parents' necks the entire time we were in the swimming pool, despite the fact that they both had life jackets on. I don't know what about the pool they were frightened of, except maybe the depth. Though I'm sure it couldn't have been too cold for them, as it was really very warm water (though I don't believe that pool is heated). I was also pretty sure this was not their first time in a swimming pool, but I could have been wrong about that. They were fine when allowed to go in the hot tub, but just did not like the pool. They even did not enjoy themselves when their parents took them past the divider and into the outdoor portion of the pool. Though it being a very nice evening, even on the warm side, and being in a swimming pool outside at night, they did calm down and look around. At one point I thought maybe they would start to enjoy themselves, but that didn't actually happen.


Sweetpea, on the other hand, LOVED it. Absolutely LOVED it. She had so much fun playing in the water, "swimming" on my and my husband's backs and going to the outdoor portion of the pool. She even allowed us to help her float on her back for a while, and began trying to swim from me to my husband without help.
(Yes, I know, you don't have to tell me. We really need to get her into swimming lessons. I'm working on it.) At one point she borrowed Scoob's life jacket, and had a blast paddling around the pool without any help from mom and dad - though she never wandered too terribly far from us. She even asked me to swim UNDER the divider into the outdoor portion of the pool with her on my back. I tried. Really I did. I don't know whether it was my concern that she would forget to hold her breath the whole way, or whether it was the surprise of how very difficult it was to swim underwater with a five-year-old on my back, but I didn't make it. I couldn't get down deep enough to swim under the very long, weighted divider, which actually sits just about a foot and a half above the bottom of the pool. I was very surprised to find when we surfaced that Sweetpea was not choking or sputtering, and wanted me to try again. I told her some other time, and instead we just pulled the divider aside and I walked around it (on tip-toes, since that is the deepest part of the pool). She continues to remind me often of our attempted underwater trip: "Mom, remember when...."

As for me, I really enjoyed the outdoor portion of the pool. I spent quite a chunk of time floating on my back, my ears under the water to enjoy near perfect silence, gazing up at the full, bright moon and few visible stars, and contemplated the many struggles and concerns in my life. I found myself inspired by that moon, and began to think in creative, poetic and literary ways. I felt happy and sad, guilty and innocent, on top of the world and beneath it, all at the same time. Truly an odd state of mind to be in, though the escape from reality, however brief, did me good. The feeling stayed with me for the rest of the evening, even through a dip in the hot tub, a good long shower at home, and an exhausted collapse into bed. Unfortunately I did not take the time to stop and write any of the things I was thinking or feeling. Really too bad, since in such a state of mind I might have been able to give Hemingway and Keats a run for their money. Ok, not really. But it was nice thought, nonetheless.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swishy vs. Twirly

This morning, in an effort to attempt to get Sweetpea to get dressed without argument and without whining, I tried to suggest an outfit for her to wear. Ok, so maybe that was my first mistake. It seems lately, attempts to make any suggestions to Sweetpea regarding what she might wear, what she might eat, what she might play with, or what she might watch result in either an argument, or her selecting the exact opposite choice. It seems to make no never mind to her that she generally ends up unhappy with the choice she makes, and decides later that she would have preferred the suggested item. I realize that Sweetpea is simply "asserting her independence." But, frankly, sometimes that "assertion" makes me want to just slap the independence right out of her!

As I was saying, on this particular day, I was attempting to avoid argument, and speed our progress along, by suggesting something I thought she'd like to wear. When I held up the skirt, a very cute patchwork skirt, with ruffles and flowers, in various shades of pink and white, and made of that sort of flowing, gauzy, polyester material that fairly flounces when she walks, Sweetpea immediately turned up her nose. She said she didn't think she wanted to wear it. I pointed out that the cute white top that goes with it has "sparklies" on it (iridescent sequins lining the neckline and in a row down across the bodice, so it looks like a wrap-around shirt). This did not improve her opinion of the outfit. I reminded her that she had a skirt last summer made of the same material, and she absolutely LOVED it, and wore it so much that it was dirty and worn out to the point of being nearly not salvageable. She still said she didn't think it would be good for today. I then swung the hanger back and forth and said, "but look honey, it's swishy!" She had used this term to describe skirts and dresses before, so I assumed she would understand it now. She just looked at me with her brows furrowed in an expression that all parents know to mean "I think you are a complete idiot and it doesn't matter what you say, I'm not wearing/doing/saying that!"

SOOO, I gave up. I hung the outfit back in the closet and told her to pick out what she wanted, I was going to go refill my coffee cup and I would be right back. I have found sometimes that things may work out easier if I leave Sweetpea alone with herself, and with her own choices, for a few minutes. Granted, sometimes this does backfire, and I will return to her bedroom to find she has buried herself back under the blankets and has gone back to sleep. But usually it gives me a chance to regroup and gather my patience before tackling the task at hand, usually some stage of preparing Sweetpea for school. Thankfully, this morning it worked out perfectly. Imagine my surprise when I returned to Sweetpea's room, full, steaming cup of coffee in hand, and found that she had indeed chosen an outfit for the day, and was even in the process of changing out of her pajamas and into the clothes. I was not surprised, however, to find that the outfit she had chosen was the aforementioned Swishy skirt and Sparkly shirt.

After putting down my coffee, and helping Sweetpea pull the shirt over her head, we headed for the bathroom to finish getting ready with Sweetpea leading the way. On the way down the hall, however, she stopped short, looking down at her clothing and nearly causing me to fall over the top of her and spill my coffee on the way. I asked her what was the matter. She looked up at me with once again furrowed brows and said "Mom!" The tone in her voice was one that clearly conveyed she was about to tell me I was wrong about something. "This is NOT a swishy skirt!"

"It's not?" I asked, wondering what little observation she had made on the movement of the skirt.

"No", she said, and proceeded to spin quickly around in a circle, causing the skirt to flare out all around her legs. "See? It's a twirly skirt!"

So there!