Friday, September 30, 2011

This One is For Mom

My mother is a wonderful person. I don't really spend a lot of time thinking about her mothering skills, or that I want to be a mother just like her if I ever am a mother. All I can say is, whatever she did, she did something right. I am proud that she is my mother, and I am blessed that she is my friend.

Her birthday was Tuesday. It was also her sister's birthday: they were born ten years apart. My aunt likes to joke, "you mom always used to say 'my birthdays were great until I turned ten!'" She loves her sister though, so I bet she thinks about it differently now. But, as you well know, dear blog readers, birthday means cake time!

Since my mother is the eldest, I told her to choose the cake. She first insisted that I use a box and not make anything too complicated, after hearing the story of Jack's red velvet disaster. She said she wanted something that goes good with cream cheese icing. I told her red velvet (I can get a box of that) or I have a box of carrot cake and spice cake on hand. Spice cake was the winner! It so happens that I have a fondant recipe that involves cream cheese, so I was all set.

I always talk about my friend Seddy's awesome blog. Ever since she posted about this fabulous cake, I have wanted to try it! The first thing I needed was jimmy sprinkles (Note: I actually only learned that they were called 'jimmies' within the last year or so, they were always just 'sprinkles' to me, and they will henceforth be called 'sprinkles' here. But for those who can't accept that there are different kinds of sprinkles, now you know I'm talking about jimmies.). As Seddy wrote in her blog, I also could only find a great mixed tub and no individual colors. So, I bought that tub and spent an evening sorting until I went crazy and my neck hurt from bending over. Then a few days later, I found a few colors separated in a sectioned jar. As it turned out, the pre-sorted sprinkles were mostly short and not very uniform in size. The ones from the tub were longer and fairly consistent, so I ended up using those anyway.

Next, I needed a design. Some friends suggested some vintage embroidery patterns and I crawled Etsy, finding some very beautiful and complex designs. I ended up going with a design similar to this doily because I decided simple was better!

Now the fun begins!

Ready to make fondant

The first thing I had to do was make the fondant. My recipe is crazy easy, but I can't share it because it was an old family recipe of Monty's mother-in-law and she swore me to secrecy. I will tell you that it involves cream cheese, confectioner's sugar, and vanilla. I usually put peppermint in there too, but not for this cake. This is the first time I'm going to actually put this fondant on a cake too.

Mixing the fondant

This fondant takes a lot of kneading and slowly adding in the sugar. It's best to work it a bit at a time and then combine each portion together. I wore gloves because it's very sticky and almost impossible to mix with a spoon. I could try a food processor, but I don't have one!

Finished ball of fondant

I knew this was going to be far more fondant than I need for the embroidery topper. I'm still not sure what I'm going to do with the rest of it, actually. It does freeze well and when Monty's m-i-l first made it for me, she just rolled it into little balls and ate it like candy. That's pretty much what I did with it whenever I was previously inclined to make it as well. The ball of fondant went into the fridge until I was ready to make the topper.

My embroidery pattern

When I was ready to make the topper, I took the fondant out of the fridge and let it warm up so it was easier to work with. While it was doing that, I made a cutting guide so I could cut out a disk of fondant the right size for my cake. It was the same way I measured the fondant for the Stargate Cake too. I then drew the embroidery pattern with colored pencils, a color for each color of sprinkles, directly onto my cutting guide. When that was done, the fondant was warm enough to roll out and cut.

Placing sprinkles

There really is no way to describe putting the sprinkles in place. It was just a matter of picking a place to start and gently pressing them into the fondant. I put the thing on my lap so I could work while sitting with something on the TV. I learned my lesson from the Stargate Cake. Do not carve fondant on your feet, it's tiring!

Completed fondant topper

This is the finished topper! It took less than three hours. There are some white sprinkles there, and they show up against the cream of the fondant well enough (I wasn't expecting them to stand out). I used little pearls as the center of each flower. With the topper done, it went into a bag and into the fridge with the rest of the fondant. I barely used any of it.


The cake was made last night so it's as fresh as possible for the party on Saturday. There's nothing much to say about this, as I was using a box mix and didn't do anything fancy to it.

Two lovely cakes

They came out beautiful. I lined the pans in parchment paper to make sure the cakes released from the pans (we were not going to have a repeat of the red velvet disaster!) and they both came out fine. I was a little worried because they look very dense. After they cooled and I cut off the rounded tops with my leveler, I tried some of the cut pieces and it was moist and delicious. I can't remember the last time I had a spice cake, I don't remember it being that yummy! I think it's just perfect for this autumnal birthday.

Layers and icing

Since my mother said simple was fine, the cream cheese icing also came pre-made. Since most of the cake will be covered with the topper, I slathered most of the icing on the sides.

I didn't get a picture of this next step. I wanted the icing to be a slightly different color than the fondant because I wanted to try something with the fondant borders. Do you remember the spray color that failed on the Stargate Cake? I decided to try Wilton's brand of spray color and picked up a can of blue. I wanted it to be very light, like just barely blue. I ended up with far more blue than I wanted, more of a robin's egg color, but I was happy with it. It came out light at first, but then I got a little heavy-handed with it. And now I can report that there was not a single problem with Wilton's spray. Now if only they would make it in silver!

Cutting the border

I made a mistake here. I should have pulled the fondant from the fridge and let it warm up so I could work with it, but I forgot. It's very crumbly when it's cold and it was getting late and I needed to be done with the cake. I kneaded a few balls of it so I could work with it, but it wasn't the best. It didn't cut cleanly, and I had a hard time shaping it. Even so, I was going to make it work, and work it did. I rolled a snake along the bottom of the cake and a kind of wavy, scalloped edge for the top.

Topper in place

Because I didn't let the fondant warm up, I had a hard time getting the topper off the parchment paper. It stretched a little bit, but I just pressed the edges into the scalloped fondant boarder and it worked fine. Moving the topper to the cake was a delicate operation! You can see a little of the blue in this shot. My coworker said it looked like the ocean. I love that! Perfect!

Finished Embroidery Cake!

Tada! The finished Embroidery Cake! I pressed some of those little pearls that I used in the center of the flowers into the rolled fondant at the base for a finishing touch.

The party is tomorrow. I hope my mom (and her sister) loves her cake!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

Heave To!

It be Fae's natal day!

Happy Birthday, me fair friend!

Avast! It Be Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Being a pirate is all fun and games till somebody loses an eye.

It stings like the blazes. It make you make faces, but you can't let your mates see you cry.

A dashing black patch will cover the hatch and make sure your socket stays dry.

Being a pirate is all fun and games till somebody loses an eye!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Apple I think I love you

And if you know me, you can take the full meaning of that statement. (For those of you who don't know, my house is full of Dell products.)

So, I've been having iPod Touch problems. I have an older 2nd gen (8 gig, and chock full of stuff) that I've had for about a year and a half. The battery was running down fast, and it wasn't charging fully even when plugged in over night. I did some searching and found an entry in some Apple troubleshooting thing that said to make sure I had the most current software. A software update has been available for some time, but I've been reluctant to update it because I was worried about losing data - specifically my game progress in all my apps. Jack updated his iPhone some time ago and said his apps were all perfectly saved, but still I was afraid to update.

With the battery problems, it made it hard to play my games because the thing ran down after 10 minutes with Pocket Frogs. In fact, both of my NimbleBit games crashed often after the most recent updates, entirely the fault of the updates (Tiny Tower didn't open at all and Pocket Frogs crashed if I wasn't connected to a WiFi network- which is pretty much any time I'm not at home). Some of my games like Angry Birds and Stupid Zombies haven't opened for months, and Zombie Farm crashed occasionally too. I had no choice but to update my software and hope that fixed everything.

I spent TWO HOURS last night making sure my iPod was backed up, all my apps were saved, all my purchases transferred to my computer, all my playlists noted. The thing said it would delete my media, but apps and data would not be affected. Then I left it to update overnight.

The first thing I noticed when I went back to it this morning was that the battery was fully charged! Before, it would have the tiniest sliver to go and still indicate it was charging even after being plugged in for hours. Some of my apps had moved around, and the thing re-installed apps I had deleted to free up some memory. The apps even stayed on the correct screens, for the most part. Except 2 were missing from my first screen and I wasn't sure what they were. Pocket Frogs and Zombie Farm had saved my progress. Angry Birds and Stupid Zombies worked again. And then I realized one of the apps that was missing from my first screen- Tiny Tower was no longer on my device!


I had already shut down the computer and needed to get to work, so I couldn't plug the thing back in and see if I could get the app from my computer. Then I started telling myself that it was ok to start from the beginning. It had taken me some three weeks to get fifty-three floors, I was more than halfway to the best elevator, and the app was free and I hadn't spent any money on in-app purchases either. It's just a game, it wouldn't be that bad. So, I re-installed the app from the App Store and left the WiFi connected area.

I got to work and took a minute to open my new Tiny Tower so I could get started rebuilding. It was there! It was all there! All my floors, all my bux, all my money! Somehow, the game saved! YAAAY!!!

Seriously, I have no idea how it would have happened. Updating the software deleted the app from my device. I didn't open it right away after reinstalling so it couldn't have pulled my game from some secret storage place on the network. Some program stuffed my save in to some far reaches of my iPod memory, or something, I really don't know. Apple win!

Yes, it's just a game, but I get entertainment from it, and spent a lot of time joyously taking Bitizens up my tall tower in the not super fast elevator. It's frustrating to lose something you put time (and sometimes money, though not in this case) into, even if that something is meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

I still don't know if the update fixed my battery issues. It's been draining somewhat fast, but I've been using it a lot today (and I still haven't put all my music back on it!). If nothing else, I'm encouraged that I won't have to start over in every game when the day comes that I can upgrade to one with more memory. Thank you, Apple!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

WAM Origins

It was brought to my attention on Facebook that I have never actually told the story of how WAM earned her alias. I've used that name for her on my blog since 2006 and, while I have said what it stands for, I've never said how she got it.

I've said it many times; there's something not right with WAM. It's in her brain, something that makes her perceive the world in her own way, a way that is vastly different and totally unlike the way the rest of us perceive the world. Coworkers have speculated that it must be some form of Autism, high-functioning to be sure but debilitating enough that the rest of us just aren't prepared to deal with her. Anything can set her off, especially if you don't agree with her or don't let her have the last word.

Some of the stories she tells are so fantastical that they cannot possibly be true. She used to date several professional wrestlers who regularly hold matches over her, she's personal friends with many politicians and celebrities - who she calls regularly for advice, opinions, or to demand they do something, and everyone in her family is either a doctor or a lawyer or both and this fact makes her an expert on whatever subject you could possibly bring up.

She walks with a fast, heavy gait. She will mow you over in a heartbeat if you cross her path. This is quite laughable as she's a tiny little mouse of a woman with huge, not-quite Coke bottle glasses who is in her 40's and lives in an apartment with her mother - whom she calls several times throughout the day. She gets very excited when she has a new (fabricated) story to tell, and nothing will deter her until she has told it all, short of yelling at her. (Ask me about the time she was 'engaged' sometime.) Yelling at her, by the way, will either earn you a complaint with HR or the bosses, or some days of silent treatment. Lately, silent treatment has been the more likely reward.

WAM and I work in the same group and have the same supervisor. Before he was a supervisor, he was just a coworker in our group as well. When we first moved to this building, a more rigid cube farm than our previous location, Adolf (that's the supervisor, if you're new to my blog aliases) sat in a cube at the front of an aisle, right near the busiest walkway on the floor and open to a lot of traffic. When WAM had one of her stories, rather than coming around to stand in his cubicle behind him, she would just pop her head over the cube wall. Adolf said it was exactly like those Whack-A-Mole games at carnivals, where you have a big mallet and you whack the moles when they pop up out of the holes. He, on more than one occasion, expressed a desire for such a mallet, because she would pop up so suddenly and energetically that, thus startled, the urge to whack her one was hard to contain. I have never sat in one of those cubes where her popping up, mole-like, was possible.

So, she was then aptly nicknamed WAM (for Whack A Mole), by the not-yet supervisor and adopted by the rest of us, justly earned.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Looking Back on a Year

Quite a bit happened for me last year. It was a mix of blessings and trials. Of all the things that happened to me during the first three quarters of 2010, today I'm only thinking about one of them. The truth is, I was miserable. I had been miserable for more than a year. I held on to a toxic relationship long after it had died. Once I had freed myself from that, the world opened up.

I met Jack at a party over the summer. We chatted through the evening and I gave him my e-mail address before heading home. He sent me an e-mail, to which I replied, mentioning that my mother and aunt were visiting that Friday. He sent me another e-mail that he was going to ask me to dinner on Friday, but since I was busy, would I be interested in another night. That e-mail got buried in my inbox, and poor Jack took my silence to be a total rejection.

A month later, I found that e-mail while cleaning up my inbox. I felt horrible! I sent him a message, apologized profusely, and said that I was very interested in going out to dinner, if he still wanted to go. He said no harm done, and we started planning. I was working at the Renaissance Festival on Saturday and Sunday, but I wasn't working Labor Day, so Sunday night became the perfect time for that dinner.

I rode to faire with my dad that day, so Jack picked me up and we drove to a little Indian restaurant in Annapolis. I still remember him standing by a tree when I walked out of the gate. The Indian place was my choice, I had been there before with my brother and it was close. We had a lovely dinner, and then he drove me to my parents' house where I was staying that night. I remember he quoted Romancing the Stone ("my little mule" to which I replied "Pepe!" We were talking about my car, because it was the same model he drove) and thanked me for getting the reference.

We saw each other several more times through September and following. We went to a street festival and a couple corn mazes. We spent time together for my birthday. One conversation in particular I remember was when he mentioned that his parents had a time share in Cancun for early December and had invited us to go. I remember that so well not just because I was being invited, but because it meant that he spoke of me to his parents. That was really big for me. And so our outings also include a week in Cancun.

Some days, we'll go out and do something, some days, we'll stay in and watch old TV shows all day. Every day is perfect, whether we go out or stay in.

We had gotten tickets to a Journey concert at a venue very near my home. The concert was supposed to be last Sunday, but Hurricane Irene messed everything up. The concert was postponed a week, putting it on the night of our one year first date anniversary. I was really upset upon learning this a couple days before the concert was originally scheduled. I had other ideas for what we might do with that particular evening (i.e. going back to that Indian restaurant after I got off at the faire), and getting to the concert on time would be impossible because of the shift I was supposed to work at faire. There was also the hurricane itself. I had decided to stay home with my cats because they were agitated from the earthquake. It was looking like I would not see Jack at all that weekend (because of the storm) and probably not even for our anniversary either (because he would go to the concert and I would be stuck working at faire). I think this may be why I spent every waking moment of that Friday crying. I'm not exaggerating that, I cried myself sick, though I honestly have no idea why.

As it was, the storm passed, leaving me out of power, so I hung with Jack that Sunday. Then, for what I think is the first time in eight years, I got someone to cover my shift at the faire so I could make the concert.

You're just going to have to take my word that is Journey up there.

I saw Jack before I worked at the faire on Saturday as well. Then we ended up at my place yesterday, went to the concert, and hung around here all day. The concert was great, even though that wasn't my initial idea of how to spend our anniversary. Everything worked out just fine.

Honestly, that's them!

Jack is a wonderful man. I'm so lucky to have him in my life. He's kind and patient, he's talented and creative. Neither of us knows what the future holds for us, and that's ok. I long stopped hoping I would have what I have now. Sometimes I find myself wondering how I got here at all. Then I realize that 'how' doesn't matter. I love that man. That is what matters.