I'm trying to keep my business, my triplets, and my waistline under control. I excel at one of those, fail at another one of those, and one is a work in progress. Which is which is day dependant.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How many ingredients are in your cake?

From FoodWeek Online, posted today:

Consumer watchdog Choice has taken its taskforce to supermarket cakes.

The investigation has found some contain more than 20 additives, including those used to prolong shelf life or cover up cheaper ingredients.

Of the almost 100 cakes tested, Woolworths Bakehouse Sponge Iced and Fresh-Filled Cream cake was the worst offender with 27 additives. Top Taste Rollettes Choc and Woolworths Bakehouse Sponge Single Birthday Fresh Cream were a close second with 26 additives each.

“Most people wouldn’t use 40 ingredients when baking a cake at home yet that’s what we found in a large number of these cakes, with some of the worst examples containing more than 20 additives,” said Choice spokeswoman Elise Davidson.

Food colours are used to enhance a food’s appearance but also enable manufacturers to get away with using cheaper ingredients such as apples instead of raspberries in jam filling and palm oil instead of butter.

More than half the cakes also contained food colours identified as increasing hyperactivity in children in a UK study published in medical journal The Lancet.

Food Standards Australia and New Zealand has said that Australian parents should use labelling information to check for these food colours if they want their children to avoid them.

“Consumers expect the cakes they buy to be fresh and to maintain that freshness, so food manufacturers use additives, but we think consumers should be aware of the type of ingredients that go into a lot of these cakes,” said Davidson.

The study found that price was no indicator of quality with some of the most expensive brands among the heaviest users of additives.

Australians spend $312 million a year buying cakes from supermarkets, which equates to about 70 million cakes.


Is anyone else completely appalled by this? I've known for a long time that most supermarkets/chain bakeries use pre-mix (the industry term for 'cake from a box mix') and that those pre-mixes contain heaps of scary stuff we really shouldn't be eating...but I don't think I've ever really thought about it in these terms before. 23 additives? Seriously?!

Recently I learned that a well known wedding cake company here in Melbourne exclusively uses pre-mix for all their products. Horrendous..until you consider that the average Safeway mud cake costs LESS THAN $5 to buy (and is often on sale for less then $3) and feeds about 8-10 people. If they can charge $5 per cake, imagine just how cheap that pre-mix is for them to use in the first place. Consider also the taste - fact is, so much food engineering has gone into these mixes that the 'average' consumer not only thinks they taste fine, but also quite enjoy the taste of a supermarket cake. I've even been known to eat and enjoy a supermarket cake myself (although not the sponges...ugh!). So that wedding cake company technically speaking isn't really doing anything wrong .. other then decreasing their costs dramatically and feeding a bunch of chemical crap to their customers.

NN commented that this could almost be used as a marketing angle...why eat preservatives and scary stuff when you can get a cake made from REAL eggs and milk and oil and flour from us? She and I briefly considered using pre-mix for some of our cake flavours, but then we couldn't get past the fact that it's scary to be able to make 8 different cake flavours from ONE bag of cake mix (I'm not kidding. The sample bag we got came with 8 "recipes", most of which were "add caramel 'flavouring'" to 1 kilo of white cake mix...")

Let's face it, pre-mix makes perfect sense for enormous companies like supermarkets. Blind monkeys can make those cakes and it's all so precise and scientific that things like costings, labour, yield and profit margin are very easy to figure out.

I took a break from my own costings (see below posts) to post and write this article - and while it kills me to think I could swap to pre-mix and avoid hours and hours of costing out recipes...there is no way in hell I'd ever do it. I don't know about you, but I want my cakes to have no more than 5-6 ingredients, and I don't want ANY of them followed with a 3 digit number.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Enough with the complaining!

In light of recent financial crises of the domestic kind, I think it's high time I talk about happy stuff for a change. For the last few days I've been mired in self doubt and hysteria and fear, and even this blog is starting to feel a bit depressing. Therefore, I've decided to make this post all about five totally ridiculous things which are making me very happy right now.

1) On Saturday afternoon, we all lolled about the house reading the paper, listening to books on CD, and in my case, indulging in a two hour Nana nap. What bliss - ! - to crawl into bed at 4 in the afternoon and 'rest my eyes' not worrying about kids or husbands or jobs or money. I eventually tore myself away from the best bed in the world to eat home made pizza, watch a movie and celebrate Earth Hour with my family. I don't think that afternoon could have been any better.

2) The TV show "Farmer Wants A Wife." I hated the whole bachelor and bachelorette series, and in general I'm pretty anti "meat market" television shows. I can handle competition reality TV like Top Chef and Project Runway, but hate the shows which seek to humiliate or embarass (like Real Housewives or Biggest Loser or Survivor). Farmer Wants a Wife, while technically a meat market...is just so... Australian. And so honest. I find myself cheering and swearing and talking to the television like a nutcase - which is okay since DH is there doing the same thing.

3) Clean undies...not that I generally have grotty ones, I just love having plenty of clean ones in my drawer. In a family of five, laundry isn't so much a chore as a lifestyle. The machine runs almost all day, every day - and yet it seems I am always shouting out to DH, "Have you seen any of my undies?! I *never* have any undies! Where the #^*&@# are my undies? Fer cripes' sake, is it so hard to get a pair of clean undies around here?" I am a total undie-holic in so far as I sometimes change twice a day (madness, I know.) Today (and for the past couple of days), I've had a whole stack of clean, nicely folded undies in my drawer. I open the closet in the morning and I smile at them - yes, they make me that happy.

4) Meal planning. For a very long while we would meal plan our weeks - on Sunday night I'd sit down and decide what we were going to have for dinner for the coming week. I'd decide based on whatever I felt like, whatever we had already in the fridge or freezer, or whatever new recipes I came across. Then for a(long) while we lost our meal planning mojo, and every night became an annoying quest of "what the heck do I cook now?" I was getting mighty sick of the same 5 dishes recycled round and round again - so I reitroduced meal plans, but now I do it on a 3 week basis, and involve the kids and DH. We've saved a stack of money, don't go market shopping a billion times a week, and the kids are much more enthusiastic to try new things and help cook and be involved in the process. Plus I think in the last 9 weeks or so no single meal has actually been repeated, so I'm never bored.

5) My son is good at basketball. Now I realise this may sound like another round of me saying "aren't my kids just bloody fabulous" but this one is particularly important to me. Here's the thing. My Dad is over 6 feet tall, my brother is 6'5", I am a hair shy of 6" and my DH is about 6'1"...and so on and so forth. All my life I've been around tall people...and with the exception of my brother in law, I've never known any one of us tall folk to play basketball. What a waste of inches, I know! My poor not-so-little brother has always felt like he needs a t-shirt which says, "NO, I don't play basketball!" So it's kinda cool to me that we finally have someone in the family who plays this sport, and is defying all Jewish convention by actually having some hand/eye coordination. I love watching him play (even if it means being up early on a Sunday morning.) This past Sunday I turned into psycho basketball Mum and shouted encouragement from the sidelines. Seriously, people, I'm very close to getting some pom poms.

That's it. Five simple things which are reminding me to smile. Crisis, shmises, the finale of Farmer Wants A Wife is on Wednesday night!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Reality Bites

Regular readers of this blog will know that I own a custom cake and cupcake business. A business which has seen a 400% growth in the space of 18 months (not a typo, those zeros are right.) A business which can no longer sustain this growth in the space it's in. At the moment, the business is literally operating in tiny conditions - I've had to start storing flour and sugar in the cool room because there is no room anywhere else!

The coolroom is enormous - so much so that I I use it as my default dry store...in addition to the bags of flour there is all my packaging, too. NN and I spend several minutes looking for yet more places to put finished cakes, or we waste hours moving stuff up and down and in and out and around in the hopes that we can eek out enough space for "just one more" dozen cupcakes. The situation has reached ridiculous proportions. My handwashing sink washes my hands one minute and acts as my desk the next minute. My freezer is both a freezer and a storage area for empty containers. It's lid is both shelf space and photo studio. My stovetop is a stove but also acts as a shelf, a storage area, and a cooling rack when needed. The top of the oven is where I store my cupcake tins....and in all of this there is just one little 2 metre (6 foot) bench on which NN and I produce several hundred cakes and cupcakes every month.

For a couple of months I've been hunting for a bigger premises, and the good news is that I found a place I think will work. The bad news is that I spent 4 hours with the accountant on Wednesday, only to have him tell me that I can't afford to move...and I can't afford to stay. Basically where I am now doesn't have enough space for me to take on more business... and the amount of business I have now is only really covering expenses and not much else. Because of the space issue, I've had to turn away work in recent weeks. So if I stay where I am, I'm almost better off just going out and getting a job.

The whole reason I *left* my last job is because it earned me no money, killed my back, and left my kids with a grumpy and/or absent mother. Getting a job is NOT an option.

So another option is to move to bigger premises and accept that it'll take another 9-12 months before I start to see any money. The last option is to move to bigger premises and find something which I can retail - so either serve coffee and slices of cake (or whatever) or come up with a "product" which I can go and sell. Problem? I don't really love either of those options. Fact is, I have no interest in selling coffee ... primarily because it's a total change in business for me, in terms of how I currently run it all, and it requires a higher start up cost with no guarantee that people will actually come and drink my coffee and eat my cinnamon palmiers. (Although let me say that those cinnamon palmiers are so good, they make grown men cry.)

Fact is, we're broke.

Fact is, for either of the two (real) options open to me, I need somewhere in the range of 60k. Yes. $60,000 Australian dollars.

Fact is, I have the 6 but I don't have the zeros which come after it.

Fact is, I don't know what to do.

Ideas all welcome.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

He's not my kid, he's your kid

Yesterday afternoon DH and I had to sit through the twice a year experience which is parent/teacher conferences. Every time I do this I think about my sister, who is on the 'teacher' end of these things, and about how hard it must be for her to look people in the eye and say, "You know what? Your kid is a dumbass." She always says that if ANYTHING a teacher says to you in a conference comes as a surprise (good or bad), then your teacher wasn't doing their job in their first place. Teachers and parents are supposed to work together, right? So if it takes them months before you know your kid is a total drop-kick, then they aren't holding up their end of the communication bargain.

But I digress.

DH and I got to meet with their main teacher first - and no, we didn't get any surprises. (Suffice to say our kids are FREAKING FABULOUS and as parents we are, too.) We were able to provide her with some insight and she some insight into our kids. We then had to wander down to meet with the language teachers, as the kids' school has a trilingual curriculum. I know, I know, there I go raising over achievers...but then you know, apple, tree, blah-di-blah.

So DH and I sit down to talk to the Yiddish teacher, and man oh man, is she a ball of excitement. NOT. It took her several minutes to spit out what she wanted to say and she was all slow and deellliibbbeeerraattee and frankly, a real fricking bore with about the same personality as the alphabet sheet she showed us. Gist of it is that 2 out of 3 kids are doing fine, and 2 out of 3 kids are behaving in class. Apparently said kid threw an apricot and missed her head by *that* much. She proceeds to tell us that this kid kid is being a pain in the proverbial and that she thinks we need to work as a team to improve the situation.

DH and I, being perfect parents and all, make the noises of "definitely not acceptable" and "work together" and crap crap blah-di crap, nod nod nod and walk away. While waiting in line to see the next teacher, this was the conversation we had:

M: Well, I guess our perfect parenting fell down a bit when it comes to Yiddish.
D: Yeah, I guess so. *smirk*
M: Yeah. *smirk* Well, X child has said several times that he doesn't really love the teacher so I'm not surprised.
D: Having met her, can you blame him?!?!
D&M: Snigger, snigger, snigger.

Lovely. We're SUCH grown ups, aren't we?

We wander over to the next teacher, who is far more animated (thank god, I was nearly flat line there for a minute). She says that 2 out of 3 kids are doing fine and 2 out of 3 kids are behaving (note, different permutations to the 2/3 mentioned above.) She also carries on about how she's surprised, since last year all our kids were perfect Stepford children, and now X kid is being a bit difficult, and blah di-fricking blah. She then gave some examples of the poor behaviouor (who knew you could have such fun with a single cherry tomato?).

DH and I certainly don't condone poor behaviour, and we also feel it's important to respect your teachers - but at the same time, these people see my kids for an hour a day at maximum. If in that single hour, you can't control my kid, well, you know what? This is not my problem, this is YOUR problem. The teacher who spends 5 or more hours a day with them has NO problem with their behaviour... so...seriously? What the heck am I supposed to do about it when a) I'm not there to witness it, b) they seem to be behaving more than they are not behaving and c) you are so bloody boring you make paint drying seem like a spectator sport.

So as not to tarnish our perfect parenting, we DID take time to talk to each kid about their conferences - they wanted to know and so we told them the good stuff AND the bad stuff. We did have a chat with the said children about their lack of aim (ha!). In actual fact we did take it pretty seriously, and we did discuss that disrespecting teachers was not acceptable, no matter how boring or annoying said teacher might be. Child in question then said, "...it takes 'Yiddish teacher' a good five minutes just to say what we're doing that day, because she spends most of her time telling people off."

Oh my god. Can you blame this kid for maybe being a little bored, a little annoying? That would drive ME around the bend as well.

So here it is, Internet parents. Your kid is being a pain in school for an hour a day. Is it a) your problem or b) the teacher's problem or c) kids will be kids?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Find the time

"Hi, I'm Michelle, and I'm the Mum of one-fifth of Grade Two!"

That is my standard intro line when I go to info nights for the kids' school, give the shpiel about the parent's association and I beg people to get involved. At first I just kinda went along as another body to warm a seat and eat free cookies, and as time has gone on I've moved up the ranks and now I'm into my second year as VP. I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who would rather cut their right arm off with a piece of moldy dental floss than be on a parent's association...but then I've always been one for public service and this seemed a worthy a cause as any.

The kids school is TINY - from 3 year old pre-school to Grade Six, there are only about 160 kids. My kids' class is a healthy 15 kids, but last year the 6th grade had only 3 kids in it - so you can imagine how much this place really relies on the goodwill of parents, grandparents and teachers to keep it all moving along. Yes, it's a private school - but large numbers of the student body are recipients of scholarships and several of the kids are first-generation Australians or immigrants themselves.

Tomorrow is our first (and possibly only) major fund raiser for the year - a giant market day and carnival. The entire event has been planned and organised by the parent's association president (AKA The Neighbour's Wife on this blog), myself, and the part-time marketing manager of the school (she only works 2 days a week.)

Here's the thing. I work full time (more than full time if we include all my hours sending emails to people asking cake questions), TNW works full time, and the marketing person has used countless UNPAID hours to help us out. We're all happy to do it, we're all doing our best to create a fabulous event...but where the hell is everyone else? This event has been in the planning for several months, and several requests for volunteers has been sent out. We've had so few responses, it borders on pathetic.

I totally understand that some people find the idea of offering their free time impossible. I understand those who work full time, overtime, extra jobs, shift work, loads of young kids, etc and who simply cannot find the spare time we're asking. It's not those people who I am upset about. It's the people who don't work, don't care for others (like a sick parent or something), don't have ANY EXCUSE in the world not to offer to do something. The very same people who will then complain bitterly when things are not to their standard, things are not done on the scale they would like, or things just aren't good enough for them.

The shame of it is that when someone finally does step forward, we're all so damn grateful we land on them like a ton of bricks....which of course sends them scurrying back from whence they came. Or the few who give of their time get so overworked, they eventually tire out and become overwhelmed and leave.

I've seen this happen at my kids school, at the multiple birth association (of which I was member and newsletter editor for many years), my synagogue...and so on and so forth. Me, I've been a joiner and a do-er and a volunteer from WAY back, and as a result I've been watching as apathy, discontent, and general societal malaise has kept people from giving a bit of themselves.

Rather than complain (yes, Georgia, I'm a skilled complainer!) anymore about all those people who do not help, let me tell you WHY I choose to find the time to help out. The way I see it, we are all a bit like that ubiquitos pebble thrown into the pond - chuck us in and the ripples go on forever. In this case, though, the ripples represent two things: 1) all the communities of which we are a part, and 2) the lasting effect that being an engaged, involved member of those communities has. For the purposes of explanation, let's look at some of the places I spend my "free" time and the impact that has.

This afternoon my son and I wrapped up the presents for tomorrow's Lucky Dip (small 'mystery' gifts you pick out of a box) and a little while later we baked some muffins for the Bake Stall. He then sat next to me while I made some phone calls about getting ice, money and some other last minute details taken care of for the fair. What did my son get out of this? Well, there are the basic things like a baking lesson and a wrapping lesson and just plain old quality time with his Mum. Then there are the bigger lessons - the ones which are all about being helpful, being friendly, working in a team, cooperating. Then there are the lessons even bigger than those - the ones which say HEY, MY SON, I CARE ABOUT YOU enough to care about the future of the school you love. The ones which teach him that it's just as important to love something as it is to nurture it. The one which says I am an active participant not only as your Mum but also as a friend, as a member of your school community, and someone who believes that life is about receiving as much as it is about giving.

I've mentioned before on this blog that becoming a parent was not entirely in my life game plan. But, having made the choice - you can be damn sure I'm going to make every effort to be an involved and active parent. Why? ONE SIMPLE REASON: When it comes to parenting, you only get *one* chance. You cannot wait until they are 21 and then call a "do-over." I can assure you that my son might not remember baking those muffins with me - but when HE has a son, he'll remember his childhood as being one with parents who were involved in his life. Parents who were involved not only in the family but involved in all sorts of other community groups.

So - yes. I work full time. I run a house and a business and triplets and a whole bunch of other stuff ... but I also bake muffins for bake stalls and organise market days.

Another place I offer my time is to our synagogue. People who know me know I'm not terribly religious, I'm much more a cultural Jew than a bible-thumping one. Once a month there is a family Sabbath - were the service is short and kid friendly, and everyone brings a plate to share afterwards. It's a simple thing, really, and as time has gone on it's grown slowly in numbers - and yet, no matter how much we beg, plead, ask nicely...it's been a very slow process getting more people to come and participate. Most people have two reasons for not coming along - 1) they can't be bothered to cook ONE main meal and ONE dessert to share, and 2) they spend every Sabbath with their own families.

Hmm. Reason #1 I don't understand at all, since for me cooking 2 dishes is WAY less than I cook on a Sabbath anyway, and who said anything about cooking? Buy a quiche and be done. The second reason I understand, but I also think is crap - what, you don't think your Mum will cope if you say, "Hey, Mum, we're having dinner at temple tonight!" Seriously, she'll hear you say that and break out the Manishevitz to celebrate both your return to the temple and her break from cooking.

So what do I, and my kids, get out of it? Ask anyone who is involved in a cultural or religious group and they'll tell you - they get a sense of community, of belonging, of sharing. My kids get a group of friends who they don't see at school every day. Friends who live in different places, have different life circumstances, who are different and yet so much the same. As a family we get the feeling of knowing we belong to an even bigger family than just the one which resides at Casa Verde.

You can blame the economy, you can blame society, you can blame the wax and wane of the moon but the fact is I am deeply saddened by what I see is my generation's extreme apathy. The 30-somethings who have time for facebook, time for twitter, time for blogging and time for endless texting don't have the time to spend an hour making a phone call or two for the benefit of their kids' school. As in any case, there are exceptions to the rule - which is why this fair is going on basically because 3 people made it happen - but the reality of it is, the movers and the shakers represent a far smaller proportion of the population. I think this... epidemic.. of NOT being involved is doing ourselves, our kids, and future generations a serious disservice. You cannot begin to estimate the power which simply BEING INVOLVED in your community will have - and being involved in your community does NOT mean writing a tweet, setting up a facebook group for people who love cheesecake, or writing a blog. I'm talking about real, live, breathing communities - and argue all you like that the internet has made the world smaller and closer and more communicative... but all I see are people who do not speak to one another because they are too busy texting on their Blackberry.

Frankly, I've had enough of being one of only a few people out there, making my world a better place for the kabillion people who will not get off their arse and do something for the greater good.

Usually when I go to the parent info nights and I use my standard intro line, I get one or another person coming up to me afterwards to ask if it's true that I have triplets. They then say, "Oh my god, triplets! You have triplets, you work, AND you are involved in the parent's association? How in the world do you find the time?"

I have only one answer.

How in the world do you NOT find the time?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Value of Mentoring

When the kids were born, DH's godfather's wife (say THAT ten times fast) offered me a few handy bits of parenting advice. As a mother to four (among them a set of twins), she knew just how lonely, frustrating, exciting and terrifying motherhood could be - especially when you are handed more than one baby to look after. These tidbits of info led to her offering to come and have a tea with me one afternoon...and this led to a valuable friendship. Through their babyhood, she used to come and visit me once a week. We had a standing 'date' for her to come and basically act as both my sanity and my reality check.

Sometimes she would come over and make me a cup of tea and let me cry. Sometimes she would come and just allow me time to take a blessed shower and just enjoy peace and quiet for a few fleeting moments. When weather and time allowed, we would head out to a park or the backyard to soak up some sunshine ... because even screaming babies can't ruin the calm which sunshine brings. As I got more confident (and she encouraged me), we'd go to local cafes and have a drink and some lunch. As they got yet older again, I'd bundle the trio up and drive to her place for lunch.

She was a friend, a spare Mum, a confidante and a mentor. She listens without judgement, offers advice which she does not always expect you to take, and has a wealth of knowledge that only someone who has lived a full life has. In her life she's dealt with marriage, divorce, mental illness, cloth diapers, babies and children and jobs and finances and sewing and cooking and friendship and a whole boat load of other stuff...stuff which I would probably deal with but at that point had no experience of.

As the kids got older, I returned to work, she returned to work, and the trio went on to daycare and preschool. We always had a close relationship, but for a few years there we just never found the time to reconnect in person although not a week went by when I did not think about her.

About a year ago I organised a movie night for the kids' school. Unbeknownst to me, one of the tickets got sold to the daughter of my friend. The night was crowded, busy, crazy ... just utter bedlam... so I only got to see the daughter for about six seconds. She just said one thing, "Michelle! How are you? MUM REALLY MISSES YOU! Call her."

I took that chance meeting as a sign, and I DID call my friend and we reconnected - much to the delight of both of us! Since then we've had a standing lunch date once a month...and invariably lunch always lasts hours and we feel as though we've not said half of what we needed to or wanted to. I get an immense sense of being loved, looked after, advised, and mentored. She gets to feel needed and useful, to laugh at my tales of woe (because we've discovered our husbands are quite similar in nature), and my deep love, affection and appreciation for what she gives me.

I've always read those articles about people who get career mentors ... people to whom they hitch their star as they rise up the ladder of success, people they look up to, people who can be their 'go to' person when they aren't sure what the next step should be. As a mother, woman, friend, sewing goddess and so on... my friend IS my mentor on all those levels.

Thinking about my friend and what she has given me has made me think about the value of mentoring in other aspects of my life. Not one to sit around wondering (doing is ever so much more fun, and ever so much more satisfying) I decided to try out this whole business mentor thing for myself. I called up a successful small businesswoman whose business is not dissimilar to mine (she doesn't make cakes but does make a niche pastry product.) I called and asked if I could buy her a coffee in exchange for a little of her time, her wisdom, her expertise in the "been there, done that" world of small business.

Today I got the chance to see her and discuss some of my business concerns. To my surprise, I left the meeting feeling that she wasn't really all that helpful...because, in retrospect, I think I was looking for some hand-holding. Someone to be my business "mother" and tell me it would all be okay. She didn't do any of that. In actual fact she listened to my concerns and worries and said, "You need to go and PAY FOR some really good financial advice before you make one more decision about the future of your business. Go and do MORE RESEARCH in XYZ areas, and then go to the advisor with what you think your plan will be and ask them if it will work on a numbers level. You're far too emotional about it all to make these decisions and succeed."

So there's the rub, I guess. She gave me useful, concrete, sound and practical advice. She didn't tell me it would all be okay, in fact she said I should be prepared with a Plan B in case said advisor tells me I've got no hope in hell of being successful.

Damn. What I really wanted (now that I've had time to over analyse) is someone to make me a cup of tea, let me cry, and take me out into the sunshine. I am sure that in the coming days the mentoring she gave me will serve me in good stead and I'll feel as though it was much more valuable than I initially thought. For now, the jury is still out.

On a practical note, I got to see how her pastry kitchen works and that in itself had immense value... because it made me realise just how much you can achieve with very little infrastructure.

In a few weeks NN is heading for 8 weeks among the bright lights and big cities of Europe, and (if all goes to plan), I'll get a chance to offer a bit of mentoring to a new person coming into my own pastry kitchen. I wonder what advice they will want, and what advice I might give, and I wonder if I will be of value to them, and they of value to me.

This has me thinking a lot about the role of mentors - people you're not related to who give you advice. Not your girlfriend who tells you he's just not that into you, not your mother who tells you that you are a success even as you are losing every dime, not any of those people, not the litany of 'yes men' who are your friends, your lovers, your YAY YOU people in your life.

What say YOU, Internet mentors? Do you have these kinds of relationships? If not, having read this post, will you pursue them? Do you have "unspoken" mentors - blogs or articles or online communities of people who you admire, look to for advice? How do you get your mentoring?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Manifest Destiny or OMG I am Magical

Saturday night I was online (because, let's face it, I have no life) and I was reading and thinking about a post by Karen - the gist of which was completing an exercise in making your aspirations and goals actually come true. I'm am a skeptic from way back, in so far as I don't really think you can rely on artsy-fartsy lofty-shmofty visualiations and positive affirmations to have great things happen to you. While I don't think they hurt - and certainly they seem to help quite a lot of people - I've just never really been one for all of that. For me the quickest way to success is basically a hell of a lot of hard work, and a hell of a lot of good luck.

That being said, I do think that one's mental state can greatly affect their ability to achieve success - so if you believe in yourself and have a clear goal, you've got a better chance than, say, the guy sitting on the couch eating chips dipped in Nutella and hoping to lose weight. (Sidebar: Chips in Nutella...hmmmm....)

So I've read Karen's post a few times, and while I've wanted to act on it, my I-don't-go-for-mumbo-jumbo self hasn't done it yet. Shortly after reading it, I went to check the business's bank balance (again, Saturday night, yes, I'm a loser.) As I was logging in I smiled to myself and thought, "How cool would it be if I manifest another 5 grand in my account just by thinking about it? That would be SO cool if I looked online and WHAMMO, there was an extra 5 grand."

So I logged in.

I looked at the bank balance.

My jaw, literally, hit the floor. I - no joke- rubbed my eyes and went, WHAT THE...?

The balance was almost exactly 5 grand more than I was expecting it to be.

People, you could have totally blown me over with a feather. Once I got over the shock and realised that I was in fact seeing a balance which, not seconds earlier, I had only DREAMED about... I looked at the transaction history. A corporate client had paid for their (massive) order in full, in advance. 3 brides had paid their oustanding balances, and several credit card payments also went through all on the same day... thus netting me, in one fell swoop, an increase of 5K in the account. Okay, so I earned that money. It's not like it appeared by magical bank balance fairies or anything. But still. WHOAH.

Since then, I've had this little tiny bubble of happiness inside of me. Not only did I wish something and it came true, but my Saturday night then suddenly felt less loser-ish. I've logged in several times since then and the money is STILL there, so it's not like some sort of crazy you're-on-candid-camera thing. Or at least I don't think it is.

Now DH wants me to use my powers on the lottery ticket he buys this week...and now I'm going to go do the exercise Karen blogged about.

Hey, it can't hurt, right?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Just wondering....

If my "ooh, so I'm totally a dog person" status is at all revoked if, when I meet OPD (Other People's Dogs) all I want to do is either a) run a mile or b) kick the little buggers into next week.

I am also convinced that our own canine friend must be smoking weed in the backyard when we're not looking, because I've never seen anyone (human, dog or otherwise) so totally calm in the midst of chaos. Me thinks I should take a leaf out of his book (if dogs actually HAD books, that is.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Heidi Special

This cake is being posted here especially for Heidi, who could use something to make her smile these days. Before you ask, yes both of them were anatomically correct and the view from the back was almost as amusing as the view from the front! The wedding was themed on "Tiffany blue" hence why we tried to make it a bit elegant (well, as elegant as this kind of thing can be.) I made it for a bachelorette party (on request of the bride's best friend.) Sadly the next day there was a major disaster as the lady fell off her, em, perch - the customer picked it up and it did not survive the drive. I had to re-make most of her limbs and we could no longer get her to stay upright. The end result was her laying on his chest with a wine glass in one hand and his giant penis in the other hand....really, the way most married women would like to be.

Really, my life has come to this?! *grin*

Happy Purim

I sent the trio off to school today dressed in their Purim costumes ...and it was an especially big smile of pride since I actually used my sewing machine to get these costumes done! Admittedly there was not a lot to do - for DD2 just a vest and a glittery sash, and for DS a hat and a beard. Still, I got the whole sewing thing happening especially so I could do these kinds of projects, so it was especially nice to see those skills be put to the use they were intended! The costumes cost me a whopping $15 to make (assuming we are ignoring the cost of going to Disneyland to get those fabulous Pirate ears). I'm feeling very proud indeed, especially as the kids picked and designed their own outfits - DS wins the fantastic irony award since he went as a dwarf and he's the tallest kid in his class (and taller than most of the kids in the year above him as well.)

So we had one dwarf, one very pretty "boy" and one "rock chick pirate princess" ...

...and one 75kmph couch potato.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Reason #39 Why I Love My Job

Getting to do orders like these....20 men sporting ties, bow-ties, six packs...and not much else!

Cake Love

It's been a while so here's some cake love to keep you all amused. I've been toying with the idea of a blog especially for the business, as I've seen several of my most favourite companies do it (CakeLava and Pink Cake Box, I'm looking at you). I mooted the idea with my web designer and she totally put the kai-bosh on it - for the reason that she can't see the 'added value' in it, and she can't see what purpose it would have for the business. She sees it only as a "look at the pretty pictures" usage rather than a "come buy the cakes in the pretty pictures" tool for growing the busness. Since I severely limit the cakes I put on the site (so as not to have slow downloads, and so as not to crowd it) I think it may be a good venue for more pics that people may want to see. What do you guys think? Worth it, or just another time suck?

A cake for a science party - we went with a bubbling beaker of green stuff complete with glittery slime and stirring stick. The eye dropper and little bottle are also edible.

Ridiculously cute mini cupcakes for a kids' birthday. Just looking at these makes me smile. I especially love the one in the middle row, second from the right.

Puppy themed cake for a 1st birthday - I was inspired by the figurines which Lorraine McKay makes and a similar puppy cake she made some time ago. I'm not anywhere in her skill level but I like how this came out - don't you want to rub the belly of the white doggy?

An experimental one - Mocha! Devil's Food Chocolate cupcakes with a coffee infused buttercream, topped with a chocolate covered coffee bean and a dusting of Dutch cocoa.

We participated in a local summer event - and we had to bake 1,000 cupcakes. So many, in fact, that the stack was taller than me (and I am 6 feet tall.)

One of our stands at the stall - we had several and covered two tables with cupcakes. This was part of the 'kid's selection' and had all sorts of crazy decorations and colours. I love how it looks!

Another stand from the picnic day - a 'girly' themed stand of cupcakes. You can imagine we had plenty of little pink-loving princesses all wanting one!

It's been a fun few weeks - we've made cakes with David Beckham on them, cakes in the shape of an airplane, cupcakes with naked ladies on them, and so on. Lots of fun things to play with! I'll post a few more favourites as they come along, in the meantime I hope you all enjoy looking (and drooling of course..)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Marvelous Melbourne

I make no secret about the fact that I love this crazy town...whose only fault is that it is a smidge too far away from my family and friends in LA. A certain someone did some guest blogging about some Melbourne fun over at Scribbit - go on over and have a look!

Nutella Rocks!

This is a picture of my niece Emily. If you needed any more proof that we're related, OR that Nutella truly is god's gift to the world, here it is. When her Mom (my sister) heard that I let Emily do this, she wasn't too impressed with me. Then again, if I wasn't corrupting her from a young age, I'd be very lax in fulfilling my role as an Aunt. I consider sitting down with my niece and sharing an entire jar of Nutella with a spoon to be part of her education: one should always know (from a young age) when the calories are totally, totally worth it.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Anyone who is anyone who reads food blogs (and specifically those based in Los Angeles) knows that the latest, greatest, must-have food item of the moment is a Pinkberry. When I first heard about this, I couldn't quite see what the excitement was about. Frozen yoghurt shops were a thing of the 80's - we used to get them all the time. What could be so fantastic about a frozen yoghurt with stuff on top?

When we were in LA, we passed literally a dozen or more Pinkberry stores - but it wasn't until our last weekend there that DH and I had the chance to wander in and try it for ourselves. We happened to be at the Pantages Theatre, which is at the corner of Hollywood and Vine. What more LA-ish thing to do than eat a Pinkberry smack in the middle of Hollywood?

DH chose the original/pomegranate flavour with carob chips, blackberries and raspberries. I had the original/green tea flavour with Cap'n Crunch cereal, raspberries and oreos.

A couple of things struck me about the Pinkberry store. Firstly that it's a classic case of everything old is new again - it's the same frozen yoghurt shops of my teenage years, just now they sell trendy flavours and have trendy toppings and sell trendy Alessi homewares in the store. They also have uber-cool seating and lighting...but other than all that, it's just another frozen yoghurt joint (and an expensive one at that!). I will say that the toppings looked like they came out of a magazine - perfectly plump berries, artfully arranged carob chips, a perfect mound of Oreo chunks and really white, clean benchtops: it was straight out of Martha Stewart. At this point I was thinking that this yoghurt better taste as thought it came straight from heaven.

So here's the rub - it IS bloody delicious. DH and I happily dug into our trendy concoctions, but then disaster struck when I discovered that my mound of Pinkberry was in fact a mound of air with some Pinkberry around it:

....and as proof it wasn't just me who got totally jipped...DH's was missing the middle as well!

I'm not sure if this is a deliberate act on the part of the Pinkberry company to deny us their product but make it LOOK as though they are giving us lots, or if we just had a particularly incompetent frozen yoghurt twirling lady. Either way, it was a crushing disappointment because that stuff is truly delicious. I will say that I'm still not entirely sure what the excitement is about this stuff (because change the decore and it's back to 1984) but it was a fantastic treat to have on a fun tourist day in Hollywierd.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Craziness is a Family Trait

Several months ago I wrote a blog post about my Dad. In that post (in case you're too lazy to go read it) I said that his most admirable trait is that he can make cool stuff happen. My Dad is like Santa, Willy Wonka, the Wizard of Oz and other cool fictional guys all rolled into one. Not only does he make the craziest stuff happen, but he's also one of these tenacious people who, once he commits to something, won't let it go until he's made good on the promise or has died trying.

The back story here is that my DH is a total carnivore. He tolerates chicken (and sushi on occassion) but on the whole if it doesn't moo or baa, he's not interested in eating it. My childhood, on the other hand, was pretty much endless amounts of chicken, since my Dad was vegetarian and my Mom is no great fan of either beef or lamb. So chicken 7 days a week was the norm. Here, if I serve chicken more than once a week (or - gasp!- a vegetarian option) DH feels as though he's not had a real meal. Real men - and certainly real Aussie men - eat meat, and lots of it, cholesterol be damned.

By the end of our chicken-tastic American holiday, DH was hankering for some real meat. My parents decide that DH and I could use an adult night out, so they invite us to dinner. Not just ANY dinner, but to dinner where there are world famous steaks involved. So far, this sounds like a good plan.

Apparently, my parents (in the pre-vegetarian days) used to drive to San Dimas (a good 70 minutes out of LA) with some friends of theirs every couple of weeks. They used to shlep out to some joint called Pinnacle Peak, just to eat steaks. Pinncale Peak is the kind of place where the menu has not changed since 1967 (!), green vegetables are a dirty word, and they do this shtick where if you show up wearing a tie, they cut it off (but not before ringing a cow bell, of course.) Go check out the website...wait a sec...they have one of these in SHANGHAI?

Anyway so we drag our asses out to San Dimas to eat what are supposedly the best steaks in the West. The place wins major points for being theme, but long before theme was cool. So it's all about the pictures of cows, the wood tables, the jeans, the menu on a paper bag and so on. While I can't claim it's the best steak I've ever eaten, I can claim that my Dad decided we were going to this joint... 25 years AFTER he had first been there. In fact when he suggested we go there, he didn't even know if it still existed. See? He decides to go to dinner at some random, far away meat joint...and then there it is, exactly as promised.

DH got his meat allocation for the day, and I laughed my ass off at the idea of my well-off Jewish parents hanging out at a red neck joint like this one. It's like imagining Donald Trump walking into Taco Bell every couple of weeks for his burrito fix.

This, my friends, is not where the story ends. Ohhh NO. My Dad, Mr Santa/Wonka/Oz, had yet more tricks up his sleeve. Apparently in those days they also used to go to some bar (who knew my parents went to bars?) whose shtick was to let you throw peanut shells on the ground while you drank. Not only that, the place looked like a SWISS CHALET with faux icicles hanging down. All my Dad could remember was the way it looked and that it wasn't far from Pinnacle Peak.

We asked the waiter about it (who had no idea). He, in turn, asked the oldest employee, who said she thought it was a joint called the North Woods Inn. My Dad was sure that wasn't right, so we ate our steak and left.

Knowing my Dad like I do, I knew this whole bar/peanuts thing was annoying him and that he was going to find this joint (or the dirt lot where it once stood). Once he SAYS something exists, he's gotta prove it exists. So my Dad asks if anyone is willing to give him a shot at finding this joint. A place he hasn't seen in 25 years, a place he has NO idea where to find. The 50/50 vote meant we were heading home (much to my Dad's disappointment), until my Dad shouts, "EXIT 19! EXIT 19! That's it!" and nearly gets us all killed as he veers off the freeway across several lanes of traffic.

So there we are. Middle of nowhere, exit 19. Dad says, "Okay, people, I'm giving this little adventure 5 miles. If at the end of 5 miles we can't find it, we'll give up and go home." (and me in the back seat is thinking, "YEAH, right. Dad? Give up? Whatever!")

Me, DH, my Dad, Mom and brother are sitting in my Dad's SUV, tooling down some random road in some random town and frankly, I think more than one person in that car was hoping not to find it. It's 11pm, we're all tired and full of steak and the streets are almost empty - and it's mostly resedential so we all think, frankly, that Dad is full of shit.

...and then, of course, my Dad says, "We're just about at the 5...oh wait a minute! There it IS!" and nearly kills us again by veering off to the left.

See? Faux snow and all...

Too-frickin-right. There it was, in all it's glory. A faux Swiss chalet (complete with icicles). We go inside (because my Dad, who doesn't drink, was going to have that damn beer) and we see THIS sign:

The bar still exists, 25 years later. It still has plenty of drinkers at the bar, plenty of peanuts, and plenty of old-world charm. Given the time, the bar was closed, but at least we found it, it really exists, they still throw peanut shells on the floor.

Gotta hand it to my Dad...a true man of his word.

...that being said, here's the name of the place:

...so if we'd listened to the waiter, we probably would have found the place a lot quicker. Then again, it wouldn't have been nearly as much fun...and what is life without a little adventure?