Tag Archive | travel

Now Boarding

now boarding

I am embarking on my long series of flights to England for the Cake International show as I write this. As always, I seem to find myself writing blogs during this time. Someone commented to me that I must be really good at flying to events with cake things and that I should share my tips. I know I did my tips on Traveling to Cake Shows, but that was really written for people who drive, so I am going to share what I have learned over the past year of constant plane flights.

1. Get the app for your airline.
If you have a smartphone, download the app for Delta, Southwest or whichever airline you fly. It is a quick way to see what gate you fly into and which one the next flight leaves from. You can check in on it, book flights on it and check your mileage balance. For instance, today four of us are flying to Birmingham from three different airports. We all meet up in Minneapolis. I was able to check the gates for everyone, since they have tight layovers. They got my text and were able to head to the right gate area as soon as they landed.

2. Pack intelligently
We have all learned the hard way what we can and cannot pack. Here is what my sugar teaching sisters and I would recommend. All fondant, gumpaste, modeling chocolate must go in the checked luggage. Know that you will be inspected by the TSA if you carry these. The glycerin will make them go through your luggage. If you carry airbrush or liquigel colors, glaze or piping gel/glucose, you should double bag the items. I promise. Those leaks are terrible! I always bag my tools in ziplocks. I tend to wrap my large rolling pin inside my FondX mat, to keep it from getting beat up.

3. Introduce yourself.
For some reason, all these cake tools look like weapons to the TSA. Since we know they are going to open our bags, the smart choice is to let them know who you are and why you have this stuff. I have a sheet that includes my logo, explains who I am and that these cake tools are for my classes and demos. I include my cell phone number so that they can reach me quickly if they have any questions. I put the sheet inside a page protector and put one in every piece of luggage I check. I have never had a problem since I started doing this.

tsa letter for luggage blog

4. Fire bad.
If you use torches on isomalt or sugar, you have to make sure that the torch is completely empty. This means not just pouring out the liquid, but actually turning your torch on and letting the fuel burn dry. You cannot carry any of the fuel in your luggage. You must buy it at the destination. The TSA will call you to security if you don’t do what I wrote. Just ask Peggy Tucker! She is the one that shared the information with me. The fuel is considered combustible and they aren’t going to look friendly upon it in your suitcase.

5. Protect fragile items.
When I pack, I always put the heaviest items at the bottom of the suitcase, closest to the wheels. I see people lay their cases out flat and they put a full layer of heavy down then put other things on top. When they tilt the suitcase up to roll, the heavy things all push down towards the wheels and settle. They can damage your fragile items if you do that. I always put the icing down by the wheels, veiners and molds above that, then cutters on top. I want to be sure my cutters do not get bent.

6. Carry on my wayward son.
If you are taking an entry or display on a plane, it is almost always best to carry that onto the plane. If possible, use a plexiglass box or clear container so that the TSA can see what it is and why it cannot be turned on its side. You can create a carry strap for your box like Susan Carberry did

susan carry on

or buy a commercial one like Kathy Lange did.


Often, I have to put the Tupperware into a rolling duffle because of how much I need to carry on. In that case, I fill the box so full of tissue, foam or packing material that my pieces cannot move no matter how I turn that box. My friend Kim Denis actually packed a cake so well in his checked luggage that it made it from London to Vancouver without damage! If you put your item in a regular box, consider cutting a peek hole on one side and taping Saran over the hole so that the TSA can see inside without completely unpacking the box.

7. Tears for tiers.
Usually, single tier cakes are best for airline travel. Some folks have been brave and check the tiered cakes inside a large box. They mark what side is up and think it will be fine. Unfortunately, the guys moving your luggage around are usually in a hurry and may not handle your piece the way you ask. I have been at the Oklahoma show several years where people opened up their checked wedding cake entries only to find shattered messes. This might be a good time for the Cake Safe! Barb Evans flew to the Virginia show one year and put her cakes in photography (Pelican) cases, lined with industrial foam. She had ridiculous oriental string work safely fly to Virginia this way!

pelican case for blog

Mike McCarey ships real cakes across country. He advises a sturdy box with the peek hole. He says that choosing to ship cake orders or other supplies is an expensive proposition.  He is a “known shipper”, which means he has paid a fee and passed security tests.  He must ship a certain volume each year to maintain this status.  He can ship counter to counter, but it is only for those who know they will be doing this a LOT.  It is not cheap.

8. Southwest and Frontier are your friend.
Luggage costs money to check with most airlines. Southwest and Frontier are the real exceptions. If you are hauling a bunch of things to Cake Camp or a competition, you may cherish having up to 100 pounds of free luggage!

9. Bag in a bag.
When I go to convention or the NEC, I either take a larger suitcase than I need or I pack a smaller carryon inside my checked bag. You know you are going to buy things. You are. So plan ahead for it. At the NEC, they do not give out the awesome bags we get at convention, so I had to buy one last year. This year, I have two of the purple Choco Pan bags from ICES in my checked luggage. It will make it so much easier as I purchase items at the show. The plastic sacks just don’t hold up as well, especially if your purchases are heavy.

10. Cart it.
I never used to use the luggage carts. I was stubborn and certain that I could handle things. I remember pushing four bags and two carryons through the Orlando airport for Florida Mini Classes one year. What was I thinking?!!! It is worth the $4 or $5 to not kill yourself or damage a display.

11. If it fits, it ships.
Consider shipping item separately. If your hotel will allow it, it can make your life much easier! The day after convention, there is always a line of people shipping their purchases home.

I hope that some of these tips will help you.  I will see you on the road, or at an airport somewhere down the line!

Traveling to Cake Shows

I LOVE cake shows! I have driven across the United States to enter a show and enjoy every bit of my trip. My shortest drive was one and a half hours; my longest was 22 hours. There are a few keys to make attending a show much more enjoyable. First and foremost, remember this is supposed to be fun! If you drive to a show thinking only about winning, your experience will not be good if you fail to reach that goal. If you go looking forward to seeing what all the talented people will bring, to meet and make new friends and to challenge yourself to do your personal best, then you will come home in love with the cake show experience.

Before you go:

1. Make sure you have read the rules for the show you are attending and ensure that your entries comply with their particular requirements. Each show is different.

2. Email the show coordinator and offer your help while you are there. If you regularly demo or teach, offer those skills. All shows need “cake guardians” to keep the public from touching. This is a great way to help the show, pass the time and meet lots of people.

3. Pack your cake. If it is a smaller entry, it may be fine in a traditional cake box. If it is a tiered cake, you want to use a sturdy cardboard box and cut down one side of the box. Tape 3 flaps at the top together so they will not fall down on your cake. Then you can slide your cake in and out. Be sure to put non-skid in the box to hold the cake in place. Once the cake is in, use masking or packing tape to hold the front flap in place. Remember to pack the tape for later! Use a sharpie to label the box.

Before I box each cake, I give it a “shake” test. If I can shake the cake and nothing moves, it is ready to travel. (How many of you just gasped?!! If your cake cannot survive a little shake at home, it will have a rough time getting to the cake show.) Loose pieces must be packed separately. If flowers or other fragile pieces need separation, use toilet paper or Kleenex. Cotton catches on the pieces; foam can sometimes break them. Put cleats under your cake boards to make it easier to get your fingers under them…especially the larger, heavier cakes!

4. Packing for the trip. Once you have all your clothes and traditional repair kit items for your cake, you might want to add a few more things.

a. Allergy and pain medication. You never know how your nose will react in another place and my friends and I are always happy to have sinus medicine with us. You will be stiff and sore from working on your entries, from driving, from standing at the show and from sleeping in strange beds, so take your aspirin, advil or whatever.

b. A heating pad or icy hot back patches. My friends and I have discovered that you sleep much better if you heat your back right before you fall asleep. Muscles relax, you forget about the hotel bed and you will wake more refreshed.

c. Maps, maps, maps! For me and my friends, we prefer Mapquest and a GPS. I’ve always driven straight to my destination with no problems. Sometimes your phones lose signal, so have a back up plan!

d. Car and In-Room chargers for your telephone.

e. Camera, memory cards, extra batteries and/or a charger.

f. Extra set of keys for your car—I’ll explain why later!

g. Your favorite pillow.

h. Damaged in Transit signs. Some shows provide them, but have a couple of your own…just in case something breaks on the drive. Place it by your cake before judging so the judges know you did not intentionally place a broken flower or whatever on your cake.

i. Business cards with an email address for all the new friends you will make.

5. Have your vehicle serviced. Take the vehicle to your favorite service center and make sure that the oil, tires, coolant, etc. are all in good condition before you set out. If you have a roadside emergency kit, this is the time to be sure it is in your car.

6. Check the forecast. Between the internet and the Weather Channel, you can find out the predictions for the time you will be there. I’ve arrived with my friends at shows only to find that we needed to go buy warmer or cooler clothes!

7. Book a room. If possible, look for rooms with microwaves and refrigerators. If you are working on your cake in your room, these could be lifesavers. Consider asking for a room on the bottom floor or near an elevator if you plan to work on your cake in your room.

8. Get a good night’s rest. Especially if you are embarking on a cross country drive, you will want to start the trip fresh.

9. Take a cart. If you have the room, a cart can make the loading/unloading process a breeze. If your cart does not collapse or fold, make sure you have it tied down or properly braced so it will not move. I have folding carts that lock in place. I can load cakes and delicate items on them for travel. They aren’t cheap, but they are sturdy and reliable. Mine are made by Carlisle.

On the Trip:

1. Take a cake buddy. Carpooling to shows cuts your costs and doubles your fun. Take the vehicle that holds the entries best. Don’t forget that you have to have room for luggage and (usually) room for the prizes you win and goodies you buy. I’ve had to sacrifice entries for the “good of the group” and let a cake be destroyed to fit things in for the trip home.

2. Allow extra time. If your map tells you it will take 7 hours to get there, allow yourself a couple of extra hours leeway. Many of us at OSSAS will remember when Gary Silverthorn made it to the Oklahoma Show late because he got lost on his trip. While the show director allowed him to compete, you should never rely on someone making an exception for you. When possible, I arrive the night before and then place my cakes the day of the competition.

3. Allow setup time. If you wait until the last 30 minutes of setup to show up with your cake, you will be stressed for most of the morning. It could take a while to get checked in and fill out the judges’ information sheets. My friends and I try to get there as close to start of the setup time as possible. Once we have everything in place, we are able to do any repairs without feeling pressured by time.

4. Be prepared for the weather. We arrived in Maryland for the Mid-Atlantic show on a cool, overcast day. The first entries to unload were just fine…then the skies opened. Our cakes were in boxes, so we moved them in just fine, but we saw people without boxes trying to hold trash bags and umbrellas over their entries to get them inside. Of course, rain drops were all over many entries at that show. Plan for your worst case scenario.

5. Watch the weather on your trip. If you stop to go eat on the way, the cakes in your vehicle can suffer in the elements. I left a cake in my car on a hot day only to discover later that my cocoa butter painting had “heated” and the cocoa butter ran down the cake. A friend had flowers freeze in her trunk on a trip. One watched flowers wilt from humidity. If you are worried, leave your car running to maintain the proper conditions. (Lock the car with your spare set of keys I told you to bring!) If you are stopping overnight, take your cakes into the hotel if you feel they are at risk. If your cake isn’t boxed, remember that the natural light might fade your colors and it might only fade the part facing the window, leaving you with a two-toned cake!

6. Stack your boxes wisely for travel. I put mine in sturdy boxes and put a piece of non-skid between every box. My vehicle is usually packed to the gills, so I don’t have much chance for movement of my boxes. If your vehicle won’t be that full, you can also use packing tape to hold the boxes in place. Your most fragile items should go on top or on your cart.

7. When you arrive, ask for help unloading if you need it. Many shows have helpers, carts or husbands available to help you get heavy pieces in place. The helpers can also show you where to place your cake. Make sure you check in at registration before you place any cakes!! Follow all the procedures they give you at the registration desk.

8. If you see work you admire or a technique you’ve had trouble with, ask around to find someone who can help you. This is the time to seek out the “free advice” readily available.

9. Be gracious, win or lose. Remember, every show is judged differently. Your cake could win first one time and not place the next time. To some degree, it is a lot like Vegas. You can only control your work. The judge’s preferences and the other entries present can influence the outcome. Thank the show organizers for their work (they are all unpaid volunteers) and thank the vendors by shopping as you can and by writing thank you notes for raffle prizes you receive. In the end, don’t forget that it is for the love of Sugar and the ribbon will never be as valuable as that feeling of accomplishment you had when you looked at your completed cake for the first time. You have to do this because you love the design you are making…not to win.

Show Me the Money

We all remember the line “Show me the money” from the movie Jerry Maguire. I have been noticing that many young decorators do well at a cake show, appear briefly on a tv reality show or hear how great they are from their family and the next words spoken are: “I should teach….I will make tons of money!”. Additionally, people always write or ask me how they can get more teaching jobs As a well traveled road warrior from the teaching circuit, I decided it was time for a blog on the realities of teaching.

I think that when students see some of the prices people charge for classes, they think the teachers must be rolling in the dough. I will admit that I see some prices and have thought the same thing. I decided it was a good time to talk about the costs of being a teacher, especially one that travels. I thought I should also talk about the perceived glamour of being a teacher around the globe.

Let’s start with the price people set for their classes. What goes in to the pricing? More teachers are providing all or most of the supplies, so that is the first consideration. Keep in mind that it is not just the cost of the materials like icing and armature, but also how much it costs to get them to the class location. Lauren Kitchens estimates that half her class fee is eaten up by this part alone! When your shipping costs alone exceed $700, you know that the cost of offering that class is HIGH! Classes with dummies, wood, metal armature and lots of fondant are expensive because of what you get to play with in the class.

Now let’s talk about the tools. There are a lot of things needed for the class that the teacher will be able to use in more than one class. The cost of purchasing and maintaining those tools still factors in. Think about how quickly it adds up to have 25 spatulas, tips, rolling pins, silpats, ball tools, etc. I remember a young talented artist who wanted to teach. He was outraged at the cost for the supplies and complained that he was going to have to spend all the class fees just to purchase the supplies – there was nothing for him if he did that. He wanted his boss to buy those so he could make some money I will admit that I smirked inside a bit. I had another friend who decided to teach. She had won one show and was ready. She said she had a list of 4-5 things she needed to buy to provide. Then she assisted in some of my classes and revised that list. In the end, it was three pages long! There is so much more than meets the eye!

And yes, it is expensive! I didn’t start full force into teaching. Over a three year period, I started purchasing tools. Each time I developed a new class, I had to start buying more tools. I was lucky that I could buy things over time and search for the best prices. If you wonder why some teachers never seem to develop new classes, this could be a factor.

Once you have all the stuff that goes into the class, you have more things to factor in. We will start with the easy things first. You have to book a flight or drive to the class location. Driving allows you to haul more without the expense of shipping, but eats up your days on either side of the class. The drive there is not so bad, but starting a long drive after teaching a day or two of classes is just too much! If you fly, you have to think about bag fees. Most of us that travel a lot are huge fans of Southwest, where our bags fly free. Even with that, most of us STILL end up with extra bag fees depending on how much we have to transport.

Then, we get to book hotel rooms and arrange for a rental car. True, some big names get this included in their teaching contracts. I expect they are not reading this and it doesn’t apply to the rest of us. We have to pay all travel related costs. Often, we get to pay to park that rented car at the hotel site. It is like a two edged blade! We have to rent bigger cars for the luggage. Every little thing starts to add up. This is why you will see me and many of my teaching counterparts rooming together and cramming too many people and luggage into a car…we are trying to save money to not go in the hole that trip.

The other really big variable is to compensate for the time you are gone from your business. If Lauren Kitchens is gone, cakes are not going out. That lost income does not prevent her from incurring overhead, payroll and all the other bills from running a business. She must earn enough to cover those costs or she cannot leave her shop. Ask any of the teachers in retail and they will say the same. And remember, it was probably much less expensive for me to leave my shop in OKC than it is for Ron Ben Israel to leave his shop in NYC. The fees are relative to what THAT teacher will lose by going away to teach. Now remember, we are still just working on the costs associated with teaching. Last, but not least, you hope to earn something for yourself to compensate you for sharing your knowledge.

One of my favorite stories is that Peggy Tucker’s husband had finished her books from a trip and said “You made $30 on that trip.”. She said, “I made THIRTY dollars!!!”. Irritated, he said, “yes, $30”. She was still glowing because she was just happy to be in the black. He thought she had to be crazy to have done that teaching trip for just $30. I have had many trips where I lost money by going, but refused to let down a show or class host. I have also had a few trips where I came out enough ahead to offset a loss or two. It is a bit of a crap shoot. And sometimes you must go at a loss to establish yourself in a new area. Think of it as a loss leader. You hope that IF they ask you back, your next outing will be for a profit.

Often, someone else picks what you are going to teach from a list of possibilities you provide. They also are just using their best judgement as to what they think people will want to take. The class that sells out in Virginia can be a bomb in Georgia. There is often no way to tell. Teacher extraordinaire Lorraine McKay posted the other day that she was going to stop offering classes in Scotland. She simply cannot fill the classes there. The economy is tough and money is tight. People fret over whether or not to take classes. I did the same the other day when I concluded that I simply could not afford to take Robert Haynes class…and I have wanted to study with him for a while!

“But Ruth, teaching is so glamorous! You are always going somewhere fun!” True. I get to go to lots of places. Unless I add a day onto the trip, however, I never get to see the town. When you are there to teach, it is all business. Most trips, I arrive the afternoon before the class. I go buy supplies from the grocery store that I didn’t want to carry. I go to the hotel or class location to get my fondant, etc. Now I get to start the other thing you have to compensate yourself for…actual class prep. I mix colors. I divide the icing and bag it. I make any fragile parts needed for the students. Sometimes I am still editing class notes that night. Usually, I will get 2-4 hours sleep the night before a class.

You arrive for class early to set the room. You teach all day, rarely actually eating anything and often skipping bathroom breaks until the end of the day. You are generally dehydrated from talking the whole time and forgetting to drink your water (or coke)(which is also why you never went to the bathroom). Class ends, you pack up, clean up and end up eating a late night meal. Susan Carberry is the queen of late night room service when she finally gets to sit down and eat!

I forgot to mention the fun of schlepping all the supplies to and from your classroom. In Florida, Susan and I had 28 boxes, not counting our luggage filled with supplies. Many hotels will force you to have a bellman to use their luggage carts, which means you start tipping per box and piece of luggage! You get to pay from the car to your room, from the room to the classroom, from the classroom back to the room and from the room back to the car. I swear I heard Susan’s wallet scream in Orlando.

So am I telling you to forget your dreams of being a teacher? Absolutely not. I am telling you to do your research first. Know what the class you plan to offer will cost you. Know what the effects of travel will be on your health, happiness and relationships. Know how many students you must have to make a trip worthwhile. Know the business that you want to go into. And don’t mistake it…it is a business. But it must also be your passion. You must love teaching with all your heart. You must be doing it for that love more than for a paycheck. When you are missing your spouse, your children and your furry babies, you better be sure you live teaching with all your heart or you will not be able to do this for long.

You may wonder why so many teachers have become vendors. I always said that I wanted to teach, not to sell. The harsh reality is, the class fees just don’t cover it all. You have to sell supplies to increase your odds of not taking a loss on the trip. I always tell my students that I am a reluctant vendor. It is true. That is not my passion and I do not sell forcefully because that is not the reputation I want to have. But my husband has made it clear that he would like me to occasionally make a profit. And since he is letting me galavant all over the world, I can make that effort.

So what do you do if you know in your heart that you are dying to teach? Start locally. Demo for your cake club. Demo at the ICES Days of Sharing. Ask local cake shops if you can teach there. Offer a class at your bakery or home to a smaller group. Get your “sea legs” for teaching. Write an tutorial for one of the cake magazines and submit it for consideration Have someone tape you; then watch yourself to see where you can improve. Once you have your supplies, class materials and timing down, start volunteering within your region. If you attend a cake show, see if they need a demonstrator or teacher. Have references. Have photos. Do the same at neighboring Days of Sharing and other cake club meetings. Take classes from people you hear are good teachers. Learn from how they run their classes. See how they manage time. (read my earlier blog on what makes a good teacher!). Expect rejection, but keep working. The next time you ask could be the magic time.

I once had a friend complain that no one asked her to teach. I looked at her in surprise. I never thought to wait to be asked. I wrote emails asking to demo and asking to teach long before I was allowed to do so. I sent CDs of photos to Cake Camp and Florida Mini Classes, along with references and a resume. I never thought anyone was going to hand me the opportunity…I set goals and started working towards them. I was patient. I had decided it would take about three years of hard work to become a nationally recognized teacher. I probably underestimated. While I am getting closer to that goal, there are many parts of the US and oh, so many students who have no idea who I am. I am fully prepared to keep asking for teaching opportunities and will keep being one of the hardest working teachers on the circuit.

What is your takeaway from this blog? By all means, teach. But teach because you love to teach. Teach because of the joy you give to your students. Teach because you cannot imagine doing anything else Teach to keep this amazing art form alive. Forget about the money. Show me the passion.