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.