Tag Archive | bakery

Side Effects

They say that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Often, as we hope, wish and strive to accomplish our goals, we forget that there will be A downside to reaching any of them. Let’s think about medicines for a moment. Commercials are rampant these days for every disease out there. After it tells you how it will help you, an announcer quickly glosses over all the bad things that medicine could cause. 

One day as I watched a commercial with friends, one of them asked why anyone would want to take that medicine. I answered that the benefits to the person had to outweigh the risks. Take me, for example. When my last leukemia medicine failed, I had to switch to Tasigna. I’ve been on oral chemo for 15 years, so I didn’t figure it would be a big deal to change. The doctor say me down and told me that I needed to fully understand the potential side effects of this drug. The number one side effect?  Sudden death. Let that sink in. SUDDEN DEATH. 

I told my doctor that I had always said that I didn’t care if the medicines made me grow two heads, I was taking them. I wasn’t through with life yet. But it still gave me pause. I remember holding the first two pills in my hand, wondering if I should take them. I documented the dose on Instagram, just in case it was the last thing I ever did. Clearly, my heart didn’t react badly to the medicine and I am very careful to follow all the rules with it. 

I see similar things in the cake world all the time. We dream of success, without thinking about its cost. If you are dreaming of more customers, you will find that invariably you are going to have less time for yourself. Those lazy days can disappear. Those weekends at the lake?  Gone. 

Many of you dream of owning a retail location. You will definitely find that your schedule is now ruled by the business. You may find that as your business grows, so do the headaches with employees, taxes, vendors, etc.  you might look up one day and realize that you aren’t even decorating the cakes any more because your day is filled with the operation of the business. To give it your all, you have to give less somewhere else. Often, I see marriages crumble and fail in this situation. 

Maybe you want to travel and teach. And then you find that you never have a date, because it is hard for someone to handle the life you’ve built. Do you board your pet?  Do your relationships at home suffer?  Do you find that you hate airports, or driving, or hotels?  

It is so easy for us to think that “if only x happened, my life would be perfect”, but that is rarely the case. The person whose life you are idolizing could have a lot of side effects that you cannot see. Remember, most of us only show the world what we want it to see. 

So as you map out your dreams, be sure to think about the side effects. Taking fewer orders gets you more free time, but maybe less money for yourself. Taking more orders gets you money, but less sleep and time with family. In the end, we have to look for the balance that works for each of us. Don’t try to live anyone else’s life. Pick your goal and the side effects that make your life happy. 

And because I haven’t said it yet in this blog:  I believe in you. You’ve got this. 

The Last Minute

What is it about a deadline that makes us focus? Why do we become our most create five minutes before something is due? I read this quote and it got me thinking:

To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.
(Leonard Bernstein)

Procrastination without planning usually is a recipe for disaster. If you don’t know how to create an internal structure and you start the cake at the last minute, the bookies in Vegas will lay odds that your cake is going to collapse.

I’m sure I look like a procrastinator to folks a lot of the time. On the last day, I turn in my class applications to teaching events. However, if you could get access to my cell phone, you would see the lists of class ideas I have there. I’ve often been designing in my head as I drive across the country to get to my next teaching location. I probably have more “in process” new class parts laying around my house than anyone except Norm Davis.

I’m hoping that if you are a “Last Minute Lucy (or Linus)” that you are building a plan in your head as you watch that TV show. I hope you are watching tutorials as you kill time. The plan is often where you spend the most time.

I wish you greatness in those last few minutes of your work day.

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The Real Decorator

I have participated in 20 marathons and half marathons since 2005. I am a fast walker and love these events, but always feel like an imposter around “real” runners. Each time I make a comment about not being a true athlete, my Boston Marathon friends are the fastest to correct me and tell me that I am, indeed, an athlete. I came across this quote and it probably says what my friends have been trying to tell me for years. If you run, you are a runner. If you do athletic events, you are an athlete.

I constantly hear decorators say that they are “just a hobby baker”, “just a home baker”, or just “not a real decorator.” In their minds, they consider the real decorators to be those who run storefronts or large, busy operations. They think you have to be famous to be real. They think that they have to have a pastry degree, ICES certification or some other recognition. Nothing could be further from the truth.

My grandmother was a real decorator. She was a nurse by trade, but loved to make all our birthday cakes. The joy we felt receiving them meant that she was absolutely a decorator. Every person who takes the time to bake a cake (scratch OR box), who ices that cake and attempts to embellish it, is a real decorator. Even if you are peeling off Royal icing decorations from a sheet you bought from the grocery store, you’ve still decorated.

Sometimes, I find that some of the established cake artists post about customers making derogatory remarks, e.g., “Her mom “”decorates”” cakes…then why isn’t she doing the cake??!!). What we forget is that these artists have at least acknowledged that the cake they are ordering is beyond their skill level or time availability. They might not tell you that, but most of them know their limitations.

Just as there are a myriad of athletic levels and abilities, the same is true for cake decorators. There was a joke going around law school as I took the bar exam. Do you know what they call the person with the lowest passing score on the bar exam? A lawyer. Words to think about.

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The Pig And The Chicken

My brother and I agreed to do a full marathon together in October in Key West. I always found a good reason why I was just too busy to go train. I was lucky to average one training session every week or two. Meanwhile, Robb got up at 5:30 every morning to run mind numbing laps on his long driveway in the country. Then he got dressed for work and drove an hour into the city for a full work day and another hour drive home. He was relentless.

I saw the following quote and realized I was the chicken.

“The difference between involvement and commitment is like the difference between ham and eggs. The chicken is involved; the pig is committed”…. Martina Navratilova .

He was the pig. I really wanted to become a run/walker. I wanted to shave major minutes off my normal race time. I wanted to finish by my brother’s side and not slow him down. As you might expect from reading my training regimen, I had to switch down to the half marathon and did not cut my time at all.

Robb was fully committed to what he was doing. I was INTERESTED in doing better, but never fully committed. I think many of today’s newer decorators are chickens as well. They are interested in running a business, but unwilling to compute their own costs…despite numerous blogs, webinars and software packages out there to teach them how to do it for themselves.

A representative post the other day said “I have an order for x cookies this Friday. Can someone give me a good recipe for the cookie and the icing and give me a tutorial on how to decorate those?” Are you kidding me??!! Should we pop over to your house and bake it for you as well?

What on earth are you doing taking money from an unsuspecting customer? Why are you experimenting on someone paying you money? What makes you agree to do these cake, cookie, cupcake or other sweets order if you don’t already possess basic skills and recipes?

“I’m ready, but I’m not sure I’m prepared.”…….Singer on Rising Star.

It is time for us all to become more committed to our work. Success is going to come to those who show up, do the work and prepare. I’ve agreed to do a half ironman race in April with my brother and my husband. I’ve committed to ride my bike at least thirty minutes every day I’m home. I’m finally ready to do the true work it takes to achieve better results. Won’t you follow my lead with your bakery business? Are you PREPARED for success? Or just ready?IMG_8999.JPG

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The Cake Muggles

At orientation for law school, the professor warned us that we were stepping into a black hole for the next three years. We all laughed, but it turned out to be true. To do well there, we had to eat, sleep and breathe the law. So we did.

When I moved into the baking field, it was just for fun…at first. It was a hobby that let me do cool cakes for my step son and for my coworkers. When it becomes your profession, especially if you work for yourself, the black hole opens up and swallows you. I knew when I started my own bakery that it would take long hours. I underestimated. I was easily working 12-18 hour days, six to seven days a week. I insanely thought that I would never turn down an order, so I took everything that came in the door…even if that meant I didn’t get to sleep that night. It became a source of pride to brag about how many hours straight I had been working.

Unless my friends or family helped at the bakery, they simply did not understand how the bakery life goes. Family get-togethers were invariably planned for 2 pm on Saturday…right in the middle of wedding deliveries and birthday pickups. They planned the family Christmas Eve party for Christmas Eve Eve several years in a row. That is the single busiest night of the year for a bakery like mine. Everyone picks up their orders for Christmas Eve. I was blessed that my family were not critical to my face, but I could tell I disappointed them when I fell asleep on the couch at the parties. (We decorators know that as soon as you stop moving, you are toast!).

I visit with a lot of decorators who ask me how to get their family to understand. I wish I had the answer. I really do. It is so difficult for an artist to explain their passion.

With respect to a spouse, you simply have to keep at it and negotiate a compromise that works for both of you. It could be that they let you go to Cake Camp if you let them go on a hunting trip. Or that you only do cakes every other weekend so that you leave time for family. When you do cakes from home, I think that it is harder for friends and family to look upon it as a business. To them, you are at home playing. You and I know that it is the hardest “playing” you ever did!

I decided that it is a bit like Harry Potter’s world. The Muggles don’t understand. They haven’t been exposed to the wizarding world and cannot begin to comprehend what makes the wizards tick. Your family is the same way. They haven’t experienced the rush of making the first buttercream rose you don’t hate or the first figurine that looks like what it is supposed to be! They don’t get a rush when someone posts a new Craftsy class or when your dream teacher is coming to a city near you. They don’t mean to hurt your feelings…they just don’t understand.

You have to be the one to educate them, cajole them and ply them with sweets until they offer you their support. Sometimes they are just waiting to see if this is a temporary fad. Once they see your level of commitment to making a career of cakes, they often will become your biggest supporter.

Besides, cake is still cool. My dad never bragged or got that excited about my law career. And I had a decent one…won some awards, won most every hearing, was in the paper…it wasn’t tangible to him. But put me on a cake TV challenge, have me give him sweets for his Sunday School class or let me do a cake with his race car on it, and I was brag worthy! The poor nurses at the hospital – they all had to hear about me right up until the day he died.

So my message to you is to remember that YOU are the one with the superpowers, so you have to help your family fall in love with your talents. Over and over, I have seen families embrace and support their decorators once they fully understand. Don’t give up on the cake Muggles….they’re just like us, just less “Sweet”.

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A Tale of Two Cakes

I love American Idol. I think I have watched every season. One of the things they always tell singers is that it seemed like a karaoke performance, implying that it was less than a show performance. Similarly, consider the difference between high fashion runway models and catalog models. As I was watching Idol the other night, I started thinking that there is a similar comparison in the cake world. I know that I have judged cake shows and, at least once, written “this would make a lovely cake for a bridal show.” I am betting that people don’t all see the difference between a display/bridal show cake and a competition cake. My friend Barry Dickinson asked me to write this blog to help folks understand.

A competition cake is supposed to show off the best features of your design and decorating skills. It is supposed to take longer than a regular cake order for most people. It often shows off advanced skills that no one pays you to do. It isn’t necessarily something you would do for a real event because almost no one would pay you enough to do that design. These cakes are fantasies. They are your dreams, your visions, your secret artistic desires.

A display cake is one that you know you can and will replicate many times in a very quick fashion. It is more commercial. It is production oriented. The designs are “dumbed down” so that they can be created efficiently for a profit.

A bridal show cake is similarly designed…for immediate visual impact from a distance, which can be reproduced easily on busy wedding weekends. While the designs might be impressive and detailed to a customer, we know that piping large scrolls with a tip 3 can be pretty fast. They might take longer than a birthday cake, but they still must be a profitable design. This necessarily limits what you do.

I often think of display and bridal show cakes as something you look at from a distance, like a full page in a magazine. They look amazing and really catch your eye, but if you go closer, you don’t usually get a whole lot more detail. The competition cakes, however, when done right, draw you closer and you keep noticing more details. It takes numerous photos to do the cake justice. It may need to be viewed on all sides or from different angles to take in everything that is special about that cake.

The next time you design a cake for a competition, think to yourself, is it runway or catalog? Can one photo capture all the details? Have I unleashed my full decorating potential? If not, bring the cake anyway. As I discovered at the last show, once in a while a display cake just might be done well enough to be a winner.

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An Ode to Vendors

I’ve been attending Days of Sharing, Cake Shows and the ICES Convention for years. I have shopped until I dropped. I have, at rare times, purchased nothing. I try to make a point of thanking the event organizers for all they do. I even try to thank volunteers. The group that I never fully appreciated until I became one, is the vendors. I am certain that I never thanked them for being there.

There is an old adage that you should never judge someone until you walk a mile in their shoes. I started to get a slight peek into the world after convention one year when I helped Nick Lodge and Scott Ewing load their van afterwards. There was a never ending line of vendors carrying boxes and displays and Lord knows what else out to their respective vehicles. That was when I started to pay attention.

I watched as Diego from Fiesta Cake lugged in several boxes and suitcases of goodies in CT. He was given a dolly with a nearly flat tire, but he persevered. I watch Susan Carberry weigh and reweigh her luggage to figure out what she could bring for sale. I watched Ximena from Cakes by Ximena spend hours setting up her products and all of her display pieces. I’ve watched Edward Frys from The Sugar Art come in and be pleasant and helpful to customers even though he drove all night to get to the event.

I never really thought about what it took to be a vendor. I remember a story that Scott Ewing told me once….a customer came up, pointed at an item, and said that she could get it cheaper online. She wanted Scott to lower his price. He said, I had to package and label this product, pack it, get it here, unpack it, display it and now you want me to sell it for less than I have it marked? What a huge point Scott made. The vendor is giving you the convenience of getting your item right then and there. That is worth something. It is unfair to make the vendor feel bad about what they have to charge. Remember, they didn’t have to just pay for the product. They also pay for the overhead at home and the cost of the booth there. They pay for the bag, the label, the shopping bag, the labor to price it/pack it/ unpack it. They may have paid shipping charges to receive it. They certainly had to pay to drive it or mail it to the event.

Think of it like your cake orders. Your customers rarely appreciate all the things that go into the cake on their table. Likewise, we shoppers don’t appreciate what the vendors do for us. I’ve now spent a little time walking in the shoes of a vendor and have so much appreciation for those who do it well. Beautiful booths take hard work and money. Ximena, Nick and Diane Simmons at Cake Connection always seem to go all out. It takes a day just to pack for shows sometimes…maybe even longer.

I have now taken over much of my house when it is time to pack. I spend days putting cutters and veiners into bags, making labels, filling them out and then trying to pack in an organized fashion. I’ve learned to pay for extra baggage fees and to gear up for long drives. I’ve accepted that I don’t get to shop at other booths or visit with friends as much as I used to…I need to be at the booth. So why on earth would I do this? Because my class prices are lower and my enrollment is often lower, so I may not break even if I don’t sell products.

So, since my eyes have been opened to the gifts from the vendors, I want to say Thank You. Thanks for being there when I really needed that tool, fondant or cutter. Thank you for all your hard work before, during and after the event. Thank you for supporting my addiction to sugar art and for always bringing out the latest products to inspire us. Thank you for all the free demonstrations on how to use the products. Thank you for your giveaways, for your newsletters and for your sponsorship of the events. I am grateful.

On a final note, to those of you who have shopped from me over the last year, thank you! You help me get to the locations to offer my classes, which is my true dream.

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