Friday, February 10, 2012

Llama Mama

About a year and a half ago, we were going to my sil's house for her birthday get-together.  We had been assigned dessert for our contribution to the meal.  No, this is not something that happens with every get together - I do not make cakes just because.  Well, not usually, anyway. :)  Well, because we were assigned dessert, I decided to make her a birthday cake.  The problem was, I only had a few days notice to be able to throw something together.  And, because I wasn't specifically asked to make her a cake, I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do for it.  Then, as I was mulling over possible options, my husband said, "Why don't you make her a llama cake?"  While the thought of making her a llama cake had crossed my mind in the past, I had absolutely no idea how I was going to do this for her, and in just a few days.

I probably should back up just a bit here, and give you the background on this situation.  My sil loves llamas.  I'm not exactly sure why, but she absolutely adores them.  Right now her favorites are alpacas.  We just kind of all go with it.  In 1997, she was pregnant with her oldest son, and drove for a  visit to her parents' (my in-laws) house in Wyoming.  Well, the shortest route between here and there is I-80.  So she and her husband were traveling down I-80 Wyoming bound, when my sil saw a llama.  This is not necessarily unusual, given that there were a few farm-type properties along that road that contained llamas as part of its livestock.  However, she insisted that the llama was walking down the side of the road.  This seemed a bit more strange, but again, not necessarily out of place with the farms near by.  However, and this was the kicker, what did seem strange was that the llama had a back pack on its back.  That's right, a back pack.  Nobody believes her.  And I do mean nobody, including her husband who was in the car with her!  But, she insists, even to this day, that the llama was carrying a back pack.  Now we, of course, have all gotten our jabs in about the llama with the back pack: "Did he have his hoof out to hitchhike as well?  You have to watch out for those llama hitchhikers, you know.  You never know what they might be carrying in those back packs.  It could be the heads of llamas he hitched rides from and then murdered and stole their belongings - and shaved all their wool!"  Yeah, she's put up with crap like that for years.  But she has never changed her story and always insisted she saw a llama with a back pack.  And, over the years, has also developed quite an affinity for them.

So, given her love of the creatures, I decided to go ahead and try the llama cake.  It then occurred to me that I should go ahead and try to make something based on her story - I figured she'd at least get a kick out of it.  I also had been wanting to experiment with a frozen buttercream transfer.  So, I started trying to come up with a drawing of a llama that I could use for this technique.  Would you believe there are no cartoon llamas out there anywhere that are carrying a back pack?  Real pics, yes, (and mostly those are the same type of hauling system used with donkeys or mules.)  But no drawings.  So, I decided to make up my own image.  I did find a drawing of a llama that I really liked, and managed to find a back pack that worked well with him.  Here is the final result:

I know, it's not very fancy or detailed like other cakes I've done.  But the part that mattered is, she absolutely loved it!  I'm not especially fond of the buttercream transer method, though, I'll say that.  It was ok, but I found it extremely difficult to place.  You can't really see where you're placing the transfer, so that it could come out lopsided or off to one corner when you didn't intend that way.  And, when the transfer is down on the cake, there is no moving it.  Also, it is relatively fragile, so they are really meaning it when the instructions say to keep it in the freezer for a certain amount of time to keep it from falling apart. But, I believe it's a useful tool when I need a cake in a hurry that doesn't have to be anything spectacular.  In this case, what started out as a running joke actually ended up "delivering" to her, her llama carrying a back pack. :)

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Recently, I have begun to discover things about myself.  Things that are starting to worry me.  A lot.  You may remember, I wrote a post in the past concerning my OCDs here.  As I've proceeded along in life, I've started to realize some of these things are a bit more than just quirks.  (i.e. "Man, I'm screwed up!")  As an example, remember my issue with items being placed too closely around my place setting at the dinner table?  I'm starting to believe that this is actually a bit of claustrophobia.  I don't have the usual claustrophobic issues, though.  I'm not afraid to go in an over-crowded elevator - though I don't know how I would react being trapped in one for any length of time.  I don't mind being in large crowds, unless someone decides to push.  Then I just get mad.  I don't have a problem going in small stores over-crowded with merchandise, or cuddling up with my daughter, niece and nephew all at the same time.

No, what it seems is that my problem is the need for an escape of some sort.  Why do I need an escape, you ask?  I have no idea.  I'm a freak?  Yep.  But I figured this out not too long ago when I was in the kitchen cleaning up after a meal.  We have a relatively open kitchen, but in the middle of it is a bar (or peninsula, if you want to have a better picture).  On one side is the "eat-in" part of the kitchen with a small table and chairs.  On the other side, in the "u" shape part of the kitchen, is the kitchen "proper", where the drawers, cupboard, sink and dishwasher are.  The sink is at the base of the "u", and the dishwasher is in the peninsula.  When the dishwasher door is open, there is about two feet of space between the end of the door and the opposite cupboard.  There's about a half a foot of space between the open door and the cupboard under the sink. When the door is open, you cannot open the doors to that cupboard.

So, as I was saying, I was in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner, and my husband was helping me.  I was standing at the sink rinsing something off, I believe.  My husband came behind me and opened the dishwasher door all the way to empty out the clean dishes that were inside.  He stood at the end of the open door, effectively trapping me in the half-a-foot space between the door and the sink.  When I turned around and discovered that I could not readily get out of the space, I immediately started to panic.  It didn't seem to matter that the space above the open dishwasher door was all open air.  It didn't matter that I could have taken one big step, stepped over that door and been out of the space.  It didn't matter that I could have just hopped up on the counter of the peninsula, slid to the other side and gotten out.  All I felt was, "I'm trapped!!"  It was silly, and reactionary, and generally irrational - so un-me-like.  I managed to hang on to my wits, not freak out, scream and barrel over my husband, knocking him down, in an attempt to escape.  That's what I didn't do - but don't doubt that the thought crossed my mind.  What I did do was stand there, breathing heavily, one eye twitching like that of the mad woman resting just below the cool facade, my palms itching to just shove him out of the way, and waited.  It was all I could do to just stand there, waiting for him to either finish what he was doing or need to move across the kitchen to put something away.  Finally, after an eternity a bit of time, he moved and I was free.

I don't think my husband even knew any of this was happening - especially since the whole event took place beginning to end in the span of about two years a minute and 10 seconds.  So, I'm sure reading this will be quite a surprise to him.  (Hi honey! :) )  But this is how I figured out this is not just a quirk, but full-blown neurosis.  I'm wondering now if this is why I always try to get the seat in the restaurant that is positioned with its back against the wall - that way the exit is always in sight.

Another incident also recently confirmed that I'm a weirdo.  Yeah, already knew that, you say.  Well, now I have proof.  Or, more proof, so it seems.  It occurred while I was cleaning up after Sweetpea and I had played with one of her "make-it-yourself" toys.

Ok, wait.  Let's stop right here on this for a second.  Between Christmas 2010 and her birthday in February last year, Sweetpea received as gifts: an Easy Bake Oven, a Dippin' Dots Maker, a Hello Kitty sewing machine, a Make Your Own Lipgloss set, a Marshmallow making set, a Gourmet Girls Cake Making/Decorating set and Shrinky Dinks.  (Ok, so the Shrinky Dinks are pretty cool. :) )  This is on top of the Candy Jewelry Factory she received the year before.  And, you know, I would say these are all very awesome and at least it's something other than video games or TV or movies.  The problem I have is that every one of them involve hands-on, every second, parental involvement.  At least, with my child they do.  And as much as I love spending time doing activities with Sweetpea, there's only so much I can take of "Mom, I can't figure this out", "Mom, why can't I do it that way?", "Mom, you're doing it wrong", "Mom, you need to turn it this way", "Mom, you didn't read the directions", "Mom, this is NOT how it looks on the box", "Mom, can I eat it yet?", "Mom, I can do it myself", "Mom, you can't go, you have to help me", "Mom, I don't want to do this part", "Mom, you forgot to do that", "Mom....", before I want to jam cotton in my ears, dive under a bed, curl up into the fetal position and never look at another do-it-yourself toy again in my life.

Besides that, every one of these toys requires a box cutter and a set of heavy-duty wire cutters just to get the damn thing out of the box.  That doesn't even take into account the tools needed to put these things together.  I swear we've had to buy a new set of tools just for the assembly.  And let's not forget those times when we've gotten the thing put together, and found a vital piece is "sold separately" or "not included".  This generally happens at a time of night when a trip to the store simply is not possible.  You try telling a 7 year old who has been asking for weeks to make a mini cake and decorate it that she can't because there aren't any C batteries in the house.  It does not go over well.

Once you get these machines put together and actually start making things, the products never turn out like they're "supposed" to, (i.e. they are never perfect like they are in the pictures on the box.)  And, I don't think I'll go into how positively disgusting things like "Marshmallow Mix" and "Fondant Powder" smell.  Let's just suffice it to say my gag reflex is strong enough that I have yet to even try to taste one of these.

So, reverting back to the topic at hand, I had just finished helping Sweetpea make teddy bear-shaped marshmallows on a plastic stick (that doesn't stay embedded in the marshmallow teddy bears no matter how closely you follow the STUPID directions), and began cleaning up our rather large mess we had made of the kitchen counter(s).  I should also note here that, in addition to the aforementioned faults of the do-it-yourself toys, the majority of them are hand-wash only.  So knowing my issues with sticking my hands in dishwater, you can see how high up on my favorites list these toys rank.  Well, I find that I can handle washing the dishes just in running water, rather than filling the sink with water. (All you environmentalists out there who are about to scream at me over wasted water...BACK OFF.  It's my neurosis and I'll deal with it how I choose! *ahem*)  So, this is what I did with the marshmallow maker apparatus.  This should have worked out great.  Instead, one tiny piece of a plastic something or other about the size of a dime, that the machine cannot run without, of course, managed to launch itself off the machine in the running water, evade my frenzied and clumsy grabs for it, and swirl itself right down the drain.  Luckily, or unluckily as it were, this was over the side of the sink with the garbage disposal.  Meaning that the pesky plastic pet peeve (say THAT three times fast) landed in the disposal instead of traveling down a pipe and disappearing forever.  So, what was my natural reaction?  I reached my hand down into the disposal to retrieve it.

Now hold on, calm down.  What you're thinking happened did NOT happen.  This isn't the stuff of Wes Craven or Stephen King, you know.  No, nothing like that.  The garbage disposal was definitely in the OFF position!  So, my hand did not encounter a whirling blade that would chop my fingers off and destroy any chance I've ever had of fulfilling my life-long dream of becoming a professional violin player.  Instead, and you can imagine my feelings on this, I was quite disturbed when my hand made contact with remnants from the previous night's dinner. *gag* That's right folks.  Whoever cleaned up dinner the night before, and I am certainly not pointing any fingers here, forgot to run the garbage disposable before finishing the clean-up.  And I got to encounter the larger-than-necessary, slimy left over chunks of (boneless) pork chop, surrounded by remnants of mushy, clingy stuffing and bits of partially ground up corn kernels that mutated into skin magnets and clung to my hand, while I dug around in the disposal feeling for the microbe sized tiny piece of plastic to save the marshmallow maker.  So there I stood, hand down the drain digging, while the rest of my body hopped around uncontrollably, writhing in disgusted agony, squirming like prey caught in a trap, and gagging with even the slightest glance to my right and down at the hand, and barely controlling what would become, if left unchecked, hysterical tears and screams.  When I finally felt the evil little perpetrator of my pain, I yanked my hand out of the disposal so fast, I nearly sent half-ground up goop flying across the kitchen.  I could not turn the faucet back on and get my hand under the water fast enough to get rinsed off.  I don't even think I waited for the water to warm up, but washed in cold water just to get the main debris off as best as I could.  Ew, Eww, EWWWW.

When I finally had scrubbed with soap enough times that my hands felt clean, and the machine was all put back together and put away, hopefully never to see the light of day again, I realized that maybe my dislike of the dirty hands is something just a little bit more.  But just a little bit.