Saturday, February 28, 2009

But It's Clean!

Today was a gorgeous day. I mean, just beautiful. Because it was so nice, we decided while we were out and about that it would be a good time to wash the car, and get all that winter muck and salt off. There is an automatic car wash at the place that we normally get gas, and you can buy a car wash right there at the pump. You pay for it with your gas, and the computer just gives you a code to enter in at the door to the car wash bay. I'm sure all of you are familiar with this type of set up.

So we finish pumping our gas and drive around to get in line for the car wash. Being such a beautiful day, it looked like others had the same idea as us. There were about three cars in line ahead of us, and one more in the bay. Let me set the scene just a little. The driveway to this car wash bay has small retaining walls, about a foot high, on either side of it. On the left on the other side of the wall is a small expanse of grass and a tree. On the right on the other side of the wall is a hill and a drop off, I'd say about ten feet high, down to the parking lot of a grocery store. Basically, once you get in line for a car wash, your only way out is to back up (assuming no one is behind you,) or to drive through the bay.

So around the corner we came to get in line at the beginning of the driveway. As we started to drive up, we noticed a woman get out of the last car in line. Not really such an unusual thing. But then she turned around and locked the car. Ooooook. Then she walked away. My husband and I looked at each other and it was obvious we were thinking the same thing "She's not parking there, is she?" We sat and watched her walk over to the convenience store at the gas station in stunned silence. But, we figured there were several cars ahead of her, so she would probably be back by the time it was her turn to enter the bay. At least, we hoped that would be the case.

We didn't really wait very long, and she came wandering back to her car in time to move forward and enter her code at the bay. This particular car wash requires that you wait until the bay is empty to enter your code, which she seemed to do without a problem. When the computer had accepted her code, and the green light came on to tell her to pull her car forward into the bay, I began to realize there was a problem. She drove forward into the bay, and it occurred to me that she had not yet rolled up her window. I kept waiting. She didn't roll it up. My husband started to say out loud, "window. Roll up the window. Better roll it up!" She still didn't roll it up.

And the next thing that happened was exactly what I thought was going to happen. The car wash was in the process of pre-rinsing the car, and before she even realized her window was still down, she had been pre-rinsed, too. A spray of water came down the side of the car, through the open window, and hit her square in the face. From an observer's point of view, it was kind of like watching one of those movies where you know the consequences of someone's idiotic actions before it happens, and then you watch those consequences in slow motion. The action of the water coming in the window, hitting her, the hair on her head being flattened in one spot from the sheer force of the water, and her reaction (which was a recoil away from the water that nearly launched her whole body to the other side of the car), appeared to happen slowly over several minutes, though it really only took a few seconds. It wasn't until after she recovered and rolled up her window that my husband and I recovered from our awe enough to start laughing. And laugh we did. Loud enough and hardy enough that I'm sure she probably heard us, even through our closed windows, her now closed windows and the sound of the car wash cleaning her car.

What was really frightening to me about all of this was that when she got out of the car originally, I noticed that she was wearing scrubs. It worries me that someone like that might work in a hospital, or even a doctor's or dentist's office. It worries me more that she might have been a nurse. And unfortunately she even reaffirmed the old cliche. Yes, the woman was blonde. But hey, at least she's now a clean blonde, right?

Friday, February 27, 2009

Her Name In Lights

Recently a co-worker came to me to make a cake on pretty short notice. When I say short notice, it was like a Monday, and she wanted the cake for today. *ahem* Anyway, the cake that she wanted was for her daughter, and it was a fairly simple cake to do, so I agreed. Her daughter was having a High School Musical party, and her thoughts were simply to have a cake, the same cake I made for Sweetpea's birthday, with the East High Wildcat on it, and for it to say "Happy Birthday Maddie". Ok, I can handle that. My problem was that the cake we talked about seemed too simple. Rather plain, actually. And you know I must always take every cake one step further. Always. I'm beginning to think it's a curse. So I started playing with ideas. This is what I ended up with:

Overall I think it turned out pretty well, though I was not pleased with the amount of crumbs that were visible in the frosting. Frankly, though, because this was done on such short notice, I did not have enough frosting to put down a crumb layer and then a top layer, and I simply did not have enough time to make another batch of frosting. So the cake had crumbs. My co-worker said she couldn't even tell what it was I was talking about, and her daughter liked the cake, so that's really all that matters. I played with several ideas for the Wildcat, and actually made a color flow version of it first. I just ran into the difficulty that I made the red entirely too dark, and it ended up not matching the lettering or the border. I took the color flow piece, still on the wax paper and cardboard, to work with me, and let my co-worker choose between it and my putting the Wildcat on with frosting. She chose the frosting. Good choice. I also played with several ideas for the lettering, and decided it would be best to use the lettering from High School Musical. Can't get more authentic than that, right? So, a little girl got her name in lights! The music notes were completely my idea, since I felt the cake needed something around the sides. They turned out a little bigger than I intended, but again, the customer was happy so it didn't matter. And now to what I learned:

1. Always make more frosting than what you figure you'll need. This should be a rule, never to be disobeyed. It is always better to have too much, than not enough. Though it seems to me that I have learned this before...

2. When using already colored fondant to make black fondant it is important to remember that using different colored "base" fondants will result in different colors of black. Really, I'm not kidding about this. You didn't know there were different colors of black, did you? Yeah, well, neither did I.

3. Store-bought red icing sucks. Sorry, but it does. It is the wrong consistency (too thin), it takes too long to crust over, and when it does crust, it gets TOO hard. It makes it difficult to fix peaks in icing where you don't want peaks to be. Plus, because it is too thin, and, I suspect, made with too much Crisco, it doesn't stick to the cake very well. While it's a great short-cut to try to avoid having to make red icing yourself, and therefore chance getting the wrong color red, it still sucks to work with.

4. Anything colored, icing, color flow, fondant, will darken in color over time. I know this. I've known this since the first class I took. For whatever reason, I can never remember it. Thus, I think I will have the correct color of red, and instead I end up with maroon. I must have this tattooed to the back of my hand, or write it backwards on a sticky note and stick it to my forehead. Something.

5. You can find just about any alphabet you want on the internet.

6. An alphabet printed off of the internet, then copied to provide a larger or smaller version of such alphabet, then cut out of the paper, makes a wonderful set of templates for fondant cutting.

7. The cutting of items with minute details, sharp corners and rounded edges out of fondant would be so much easier with an exacto knife. Wish I owned one.

8. A paring knife kind of works for such cutting. Kind of.

9. When cutting letters out of fondant, it is best to cut them out backwards. What I mean is, when you are looking down at the letter template and it is facing the right direction, flip it over so that it is facing the wrong direction instead. Therefore, the fondant cut out can be turned over the right way, and you will have the smooth side of the fondant, with no crinkle marks around the edges where you drug the paring knife through in the process of cutting it out, to display on the cake.

10. It is important to practice cutting out fondant letters before-hand, so that you are aware of crinkled edges and can find a solution before such ugly-edged pieces make it onto your cake.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Good Day

I'm just happy today. I don't know why. I have nothing in particular to be happy about. Of course, I have nothing in particular to be unhappy about, either. Maybe it's because Sweetpea's birthday celebrations are finally all complete, and I have nothing else to do with that. No, that couldn't be it because we still have thank you notes to write. Maybe it's because I actually enjoyed making Sweetpea's birthday cake - twice - and didn't even get frustrated with it. Maybe it's the excitement of actually wanting to do something to get my house more in order, unpack more boxes and start on a home improvement project. Maybe it's an adrenaline rush because we are finally going to fight the pain-in-the-butt attorney that makes life at the office miserable weekly, if not daily. Maybe, that's it, maybe not. Maybe it's because I got to do some cross stitch finally this weekend, and Mom's santa is one step closer to being complete. Maybe it's because I got a comment from a new reader and follower of my blog (Hi PJ! Welcome aboard!) Always makes me feel good to get repeated hits from people I don't know - I wonder why this is. Maybe I'm happy because I finally, finally got all of the post-dated blog posts I had started finished and actually posted, and I feel like I'm accomplishing something. Maybe I'm happy because this morning I was able to get Sweetpea out of bed, dressed, ready for school and delivered to the front door on time with no yelling whatsoever. Maybe I'm happy because my baby is happy. Maybe it's everything combined. Or maybe it is just a plain 'ol, nothing special, all around good day.

Whatever it is, I wish the same to all of you! Have a good day!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Festivities

WOW! How is it the 18th of February already? I can't believe how busy its been. But then, it seems to always be busy around this time of year. With Valentines Day, my birthday and Sweetpea's birthday all within a week's time, we generally have a lot going on. this year I've been extremely preoccupied with planning three parties for Sweetpea. That's right. Three. Yes, she's spoiled. (Although it wasn't really my choice to have three.) But since my family lives in Wyoming and my husband's family lives here, it's kind of a given that until she gets older, she will have at least 2 parties every year - one here and one there. This year, though, she also wanted to invite her friends to a party. Originally I had wanted to have one party here, with both friends and family. But then I decided I really didn't want to cause anyone, including myself, a mental breakdown. So then I decided that we should have the kids' party first, followed an hour or two later by the family party. All the festivities (or most of them) over with in one day. Unfortunately I was planning this over the long President's Day weekend, and since Valentine's Day was a Saturday, that only left Sunday or Monday for the party. Also unfortunately, we couldn't seem to get everyone's schedule to gel. So, we ended up with the family party on Sunday night, and the kids' party on Monday afternoon.

Oh, and did I mention that we had tickets to tour the new LDS Temple? Its dedication is sometime in March, I believe, but right now it's open for tours. My husband secured 20 tickets for 2 separate dates so all the family could go. Unfortunately the first date ended up being on a day my friend and I had a road trip planned to go to a Passion Party my sister was co-hosting. So that just left the second date - Valentine's Day. Yep, I toured an LDS Temple on Valentine's Day. With my in-laws. And my daughter. LOL! Well, it was definitely an interesting experience. But that's a story for a different day.

As you can tell, my life was insane there for quite a while. Sweetpea decided she wanted to invite 25 kids to her party. Well actually, she wanted to invite 21 kids to her party, but I felt bad that there were only four she didn't want to invite from her whole class. So I talked her into inviting them. There was one particular boy of that group that is especially mean to Sweetpea. Really, he's especially mean to all the kids, and I believe he might have some emotional/mental issues. Sweetpea really did not want to invite him. I pointed out that he would be the only one she hadn't invited, and she wouldn't want to hurt his feelings, would she? She got this very serious, contemplative look on her face, and said "Well, if he is good for the rest of the week, we can invite him." Ok.... I invited him anyway. As it turned out, it didn't matter since he didn't come to the party. We ended up with 16 or 17 children, ranging in ages from 2 to 14. And I just have to say thank god for my friend and her boys (ages 9 and 14) for coming over and helping with the party. They were truly a Godsend. Thank you, Jen! Love ya!

So Sweetpea's thing right now is Hannah Montana. So we had Hannah Montana-themed parties. Here are a few pictures of the set-up I did for the kids’ party:

Just a word of advice for all you party planners out there: if you are considering a themed party for your child, and considering store-bought decorations for said party, and are also considering a centerpiece from said store-bought decorations, look very, very, VERY closely at the picture on the centerpiece packaging. If it looks like a puzzle that you will have to put together, don’t buy it! I guarantee it will be the hardest puzzle you’ve ever done. I swear, I spent more time trying to put together that damn centerpiece than I spent decorating the cupcakes, filling the grab bags and probably filling out invitations combined! And do 5-year-olds care about centerpieces? Not in the least. But, at least Sweetpea liked it. She was very excited about all of her decorations, and really had a great time getting ready for her parties. I have to say, overall I think her birthday was a success. She did cry several times during the kids’ party, but I think that had more to do with being just plain tired. It was a busy weekend with a lot going on, and lots of excitement, so she was pretty well worn out. As for me, well, by the end of the weekend I was hammered, too.

Anyway, as I said, Hannah Montana was the theme of the festivities. What that meant more than anything else was lots, and lots, and LOTS of Hannah Montana themed presents. By the way, I’d like to send out a special thank you to those who purchased for Sweetpea Hannah Montana makeup kits (there were several), earrings, learn to dance-a-long dvd game, and microphone. You know who you are. Just know that you are responsible for: what will come to be many mornings and many evenings of fights over when and where makeup can be worn – and by whom (I never thought I’d ever hear myself say “don’t put lipstick on that cat!”); half of a single song echoing over and over and over and over in mom’s head (along with images of a lip-syncing Sweetpea pretending to sing into a blue and purple microphone); the monopolization of the T.V. for use of “learning” how to dance like Hannah Montana – or, more appropriately, for use of jumping around like a monkey while wearing a blond wig and head-worn microphone, pretending to try to “learn” how to dance like Hannah Montana; and long discussions about whether it is finally time to get Sweetpea’s ears pierced. I’m really learning to hate that girl. Hannah Montana, not Sweetpea. :-) *groan* So really. Thank you. Thank you all soooo much.

The kids’ party was insane, and began with many small children running around like heathens while screaming like little banshees. If my friend’s kids had not been there to help, I’m sure the little ones would have completely destroyed something, or many things, in my house. I was able to get them calmed down briefly to open presents and have cupcakes and ice cream. Let me rephrase. They calmed down to have ice cream and cupcake frosting. I think only one or two actually ate the cupcakes. After that we had a magician who put on a show a little over an hour long. This man was fabulous! He managed to entertain all of those children and a room full of adults for over an hour and no one got bored! Here’s a picture of him with Sweetpea:

If anyone in our area is interested in hiring him, just let me know. I’d be more than happy to hand out his info. He costs tons less than the local businesses as he is just doing this on the side, and he is 150% worth it!

I also made a Hannah Montana cake to match the napkins, invitations and decorations for the family party. The kids get cupcakes, but grown-ups must have real cake! Here are some pics:

The cake was a double-layer, strawberry, with strawberry whipped cream with fresh strawberries mixed in for filling, strawberry buttercream icing and fondant accents. All by Sweetpea’s request. As it turns out, the flavor got many compliments. I made the topper by cutting out a picture off of a notebook cover, gluing it to a piece of construction paper, and having my husband laminate it, then taping it to lollipop sticks. It worked out really well, and I intend to use it on the cake for this weekend’s party in Wyoming. I will also re-use the fondant stars on lollipop sticks, since no one ate those. That’s a lot of the work already done for me. As for what I learned with this cake, well, the fact is it was actually a relatively simple cake that only took a little bit of creativity with fondant/cookie cutters to pull off. I did learn that I very much like having a cake to do for which I can make a lot of the elements ahead of time, i.e. fondant or paper decorations. That way I’m not in that much of a rush to put it all together. And that’s about it. Not very entertaining, I know, but maybe I have to get good enough at some point to not learn anything anymore. Nah.

As for my birthday, I got a lot of my presents at Sweetpea’s family party. I won’t really go into my dislike for combining birthdays, and just say that I absolutely loved my presents. I got an awesome print that I intend to frame and hang in my kitchen, so maybe I’ll have some incentive to start decorating the bare-walls house I live in. My dear hubby also did not want me to be left out again this year, and was sweet enough to buy me my very own red velvet cake:
What a sweetheart. Love you honey! For my actual birthday, my mom was in town, so we all went out to dinner. I was extremely disappointed in the service, since we’ve never had an issue with it before, but the food was wonderful as always. I also got some new baking toys to play with decorating brownies (which seems to be a new trend), and my hubby bought me a pink sapphire jewelry set, which is absolutely gorgeous! So needless to say, I got spoiled, too. I’m in the process of working on slideshows for all the many hundreds of pictures taken at the various parties, so when I get that arranged, I will edit this post and add a slideshow or two. Now, just one more party to go and we’ll be done with the festivities for this year!!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Target

My poor father. I swear sometimes trouble just seeks him out. He sure has had a rough go of it lately. His truck has taken a beating in the last couple of years. A while back, his boat actually came off of its trailer when he hit his brakes to avoid a collision, and slammed into the tailgate causing quite a bit of damage. The tailgate has been replaced, but the new tailgate has not been painted, so it is still that ugly, primered-grey that doesn't match the rest of the truck. He also left a utility light in the back seat, and somehow it was left on. Well, you know how hot those things get. It actually set the back seat on fire, and when it had burned the upholstery away, it actually melted the foam padding underneath in the shape of a circle about the same size as a utility light. (Imagine that.) The seat has still not been repaired.

Then, either just before or just after Christmas, a neighbor on her way to work lost control of her vehicle on the icy roads. She careened across the next door neighbor's lawn and over a small retaining wall, and plowed into my dad's boat parked in his driveway, which then slammed into his truck, which was parked next to the boat. Amazingly, the boat was not damaged, but the boat trailer was totaled and there was quite a bit of damage to the side of the truck. Unfortunately, the neighbor claimed not to see any of the damage she had caused, either to her car or to my dad's truck. She also stated that she was running really late and "just had to go". So she left a note and tried to continue down the street in her car, though I have no idea with such slippery conditions and the damage to her car how she ever managed to back the car up over the retaining wall (even though it's really only about 4 inches or so tall) and get out of the neighbor's yard. The tracks in the snow-covered street were pretty telling in determining the damage to her car - she had knocked one tire completely off the rim and bent the axle. Obviously the car did not drive straight, and she only got about half way down the block, leaving tracks in the road looking like a drunk monkey had been driving, before pulling over and calling her husband to come and get her. He insisted they call the police. (Did I mention she's a doctor?) I won't even go into what I think about this woman right now. My opinion stems to approximately 14 years ago, when I pulled over on my way to work to help her son, who had wrecked on his bike, broken both his arms, removed most of the skin off of his shins and knees, and was bleeding quite profusely from his head. I never even got a "thank you". This incident has not improved my thoughts.

Anyway, the ensuing troubles with the repair shops and insurance companies has really been a pain for my dad. So, with all these troubles, I was glad to hear that my dad was invited to go bird hunting with his brother (who is a doctor) and several of his doctor friends, free of charge. What I mean is, they actually go hunting on a "bird ranch" of sorts. Some people own a large expanse of land, and raise game birds such as Sage Hen. Hunters pay a certain price per bird to the "ranchers", who will then release the number of birds paid for onto their land. The Hunters then spend the day hunting the birds they've paid for, and take home any birds they kill. Sometimes they get all the birds they paid for, sometimes they don't. And since it's privately owned, a hunting license and a certain hunting season are not necessary. It's really kind of a nice arrangement.

So, Dad was invited, and the doctor types were footing the bill. He of course accepted, and I was glad he was going, since he really needed some fun. Overall it seemed to be a good day, since they got a lot of their birds and were even able to use some of their bird dogs. There was just one little detail that marred the trip: Dad got shot. No, you did not just read that wrong. Dad did, in fact, get shot. Luckily it was a minor injury. Apparently, Dad was walking a little behind and to the side of the man who shot him. It's really a bit of a quandary how this happened. The group stopped as a bird was flushed from the brush, and the man took a shot at it, forward, away from Dad. Dad, who was apparently standing with his mouth open, suddenly felt something very hard fly into his mouth, hit his bottom front teeth, and then cause him great pain on the inside of his bottom lip. It did not lodge in his lip, so he was able to spit it out of his mouth to see what it was. As it turned out, that something was a single, solitary BB from a shotgun shell. Needless to say, he was a little shocked to find he'd just been shot. The BB chipped one of his teeth, then left a good-sized hole in the skin on the inside of his lip, which, of course, developed later into a canker sore, as many inside-mouth injuries do.

It is still unclear how the BB struck my dad. There were no trees in the immediate area, nor vehicles or other large objects for the forward-moving BB to ricochet off of, changing its direction of travel by 180 degrees and thereby hitting Dad. (Is anyone else hearing "You'll shoot your eye out!" echoing in their head right now? No? Maybe it's just me.) Though he supposes a rock may have been the culprit, the physics enigma remains a mystery.

While it was probably initially a lucky thing that the hunt took place in the company of doctors, once they determined that Dad was not seriously injured, that luck promptly ran out. The doctors then reverted back to a bunch of ordinary guys who, of course, never let each other live anything down. My poor dad was referred to for the rest of the day as "The Target".

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

6 More Weeks

Today my office had a Punxsutawney Phil potluck. Yes, we are perfectly aware that Groundhog Day was yesterday. However, we do have one employee whose religion is Jehovah's Witness. Because of the limitations on the holidays/occasions she can celebrate, and because we want her to be able to be social and join in festivities with us, we make certain concessions in our celebrations so that her beliefs will allow her to be with us. Before any of you critics out there chime in, we do not consider this a change to cater to the minority, because believe me, if we didn't like her there would be no concessions! But we do, so there are. So there. :-)

*ahem* Anyway, I of course had the brilliant idea that I could once again dazzle, delight and spoil my co-workers with a cake. Well, spoil, anyway. Unfortunately, when I began searching for ideas for just such a cake, I discovered that not many people celebrate this holiday with decorated confections. Plus, I frankly was not willing to go overboard in making this a spectacular creation, so the few cakes out there that were composed solely of a figure of the groundhog were automatically out of the running. I did find one cake that ended up being the inspiration for mine. But that cake was an all white winter scene. It had a snowman and snow wall with snowballs to one side, a couple pine trees on the other side, and a small figure of the groundhog popping out of the ground in the middle. A good idea, I thought, but felt it was lacking in substance; it was a little bare. (Oh would you listen to me! When did I become a cake critic?) So I thought I could make that cake, only better. Here is the result:

I apologize for the many pictures. I set the cake up so that when it was viewed from the middle, the scene on each side would be equally visible. Unfortunately this made pictures quite difficult. I also had some problems capturing the fact that all "snow" items were brushed with white pearl dust, giving that that mid-winter luster.

While this cake looks relatively complicated, it went together quite easily. I credit that to the fact that nearly all elements of the cake were able to be prepared ahead of time, and I needed only to place them on the cake at the time I iced and completed decoration of it. The flowers, bee, butterfly, snowman (with scarf), snow wall and snowballs were all made of fondant. The groundhog was made of color flow. He was not placed on the cake until this morning. This was for two reasons: 1. I didn't want the color flow to start breaking down; and 2. until yesterday morning's appearance of Punxsutawney Phil, I didn't know which direction the groundhog should be facing. Is it just me, or does Phil always see his shadow? The dirt is crumbled up cake, and the snow and grass are, of course, icing. I'm proud to say that this case only resulted in one 11:00 night. Pretty good, if I do say so myself.

Now, on to a few things I learned with the making of this cake:

1. When working with materials you've already worked with, it's a wise idea to review prior "what I learned" lists. It helps you to avoid making the same mistakes twice. Or three times. Or maybe four...

2. Once color flow has been filled in, there's no fixing a mistake. The mistake, from that point forward, will forever look ugly. No matter how much you try to cover that ugliness by coloring over it with Food Writer markers.

2a. Food Writers do not cover color flow mistakes. In fact, accentuation is more in line with their result.

3. Even color flow pieces without narrow areas are still very fragile. They aren't lying when they say you should make two of each piece. Three would probably be the better bet. Four, and you might be safe. Or not.

4. If your color flow piece breaks cleanly, "gluing" it together with its mirror image piece (back to back) and some butter cream icing can make the break nearly invisible. Invisible to everyone, that is, but you.

5. Expect your color flow pieces to break. You'll be much less upset when it actually happens. More on the "my hamster just died" level, as opposed to the "the world is ending and I will never recover from this heartbreaking loss of something so very dear to me I can never replace it" level.

6. Pearl dust is the most awesome stuff EVER!! (Have I mentioned this before?) They need many more than the 10 colors currently available. Before you ask, yes, I have all 10 colors. And two of the white.

7. It takes approximately 3/4 of a tube of white pearl dust to coat 1/2 of an 11x13 cake, one snowman, one snow wall and twelve snowballs. If you are really excited about it, it takes 5/6 of a tube.

8. One can easily, quickly and unwaveringly achieve an affinity for pearl dust. Especially white. It looks iridescent when applied. It's pretty. And sparkly. (Did I mention how cool pearl dust is?)

9. Thinning a fondant butterfly to make its wings bend and give it a realistic look is only a good idea if you intend to place the butterfly on the cake directly, or on a flower, etc. Somehow it doesn't seem naturally so that butterflies' bodies are thinner than their wings.

10. Adding a wire to thinned, dried fondant to make a "floating" figure causes it to break. Thicker fondant works better for floating figures. Sometimes forgetting about 3D can further your project more than you could have imagined.

Oh, and the Bonus "Thing I Learned"..... (drum roll please)

Apparently a half spring, half winter groundhog cake is "pure genius". (half-hearted symbol clash, please)

Who knew?