Saturday, February 1, 2014

One Year Later--A Look Back Down the Rabbit Hole

Best not to look back.  Right?
Being an insomniac sometimes leads to having lots of possibly meaningful things clattering around in your head at 1:00 a.m.  Sometimes I find that if a particular train of thought won't come to rest, then I should probably write it down, or suffer watching the sun come up, while getting no sleep at all.  Last night was one of those nights.

The last few nights the thought that comes to mind as soon as my head hits the pillow, is that next week is an anniversary of sorts.  It's been about a year since I basically turned in the keys to my beloved BMW X5 and the wedding and custom cake bakery that we built, after I had worked in the wedding industry in this area for years, and having finally decided to Take It To The Next Level.  It started out as a concrete and stud-wall blank slate of an empty space, and I used my own (as well as my husband's) blood, sweat, tears, and hard-earned savings to dream up, design, and sketch floorplans, interior walls, dimensions, and light fixtures.  Next we primed, masked, and painted, then oversaw the finish work. 
I personally ordered and then installed, or oversaw installation, of every appliance, counter, trim piece, cabinet, table, work space, and sink.  I personally picked out the paint colors, and we painted the ceilings and walls ourselves.  I personally chose the furniture and décor, and arranged it where I wanted.  I personally chose the finish for the stained concrete floor and the color of the miniblinds. I personally covered the kitchen space with a coat of industrial garage floor textural paint.  That space absolutely reflected me, and I basically lived there for 4 solid years, sometimes 16 hours a day, many nights until 1 a.m.
I also custom ordered the X5 at the same time--colors, package options, everything, right from Germany, for my 39th birthday, so yeah…I miss that too.  Probably won't ever do that again, either.
(I thought about posting pictures of the shop and the car here, but I think it's too depressing for this post.  You can find them in some of the other 'cake decorating' posts like here and here, if you're curious. They were lovely.)
But--the bakery and my wedding and event cake schedule took over my life.  It was the hardest decision I've ever had to make, to lock the door and walk away from it.  I am surprised that the exact date that I peeled my signage off the interior door, locked it behind me, and drove away for the last time…escapes me.  Odd.  One usually remembers important milestone dates; but maybe those hard days--you just want them behind you…So, no, I don't remember the exact date that we emptied everything out of the space that had been my literal second home and a huge part of my identity for such a long time, and went home.
It's been an interesting year, since then.  Yes, it was hard.  I've had times where I cried until I thought I might actually throw up.  Conversely, I have never so intensely enjoyed every hour of so much personal time:  time to relax, time to spend with my family, time to sit on the back deck with a book on a Friday in July, with no wedding cakes to work on.  This year I also got back in touch with my garden and our land, which I had missed so much, and with all the other things I enjoy doing, which had been on absolute pause while I did nothing but meet with brides and work on wedding cakes.  My life consisted of sketching cakes, designing cakes, baking cakes, decorating cakes, delivering cakes.  You get the idea.  Lots of cake. And nothing else.
Last night, I was lying in bed at 12:40 a.m., waiting to sleep, and enjoying the view of our property through my bedroom window, by winter moonlight.  A dense fog was creeping in across the heavily snow-blanketed fields that surround our house, shrouding the garden in repose, where last year's Brussels sprouts stems still lean at odd angles after the deer finished them off.  I watched it drift in around the frozen pond and the blue spruce trees that we planted so many years ago, all now weighed down under heavy new snow--a quiet otherworldly scene in black and white.  It felt like a silent safety net around this little patch of the earth that has been a solace and a refuge to our family for so long, and looking out at it from under a heap of cozy layers of sheets, blankets, comforters, and quilts in shades of my favorite red, I felt blessed to be free of the stress of that other life, and to feel so…present…here, now.  I also wished again that I could sleep, but this schedule is nothing new to me.
The view from my pillow...imagine it by moonlight.  And with less cat.
Still.  Being happy where I am now doesn't stop me from glancing back now and then.  I'm pretty sure I won't turn into a pillar of salt for looking over my shoulder, and it wouldn't be honest to say that I don't miss it sometimes.  Very occasionally (really rarely--maybe it's still too soon to look too often), I will come across pictures of the shop, or the cake display on the wall that Shane built for me, or the car that carried so many cakes to so many weddings, and there is a sudden swell of grief that almost takes my breath away, and I feel tears instantly ready to fall (Damn you, tear ducts! Stop it! I don't cry!)  Then I remind myself what I've gained, for what I gave up, and I am also heart-wrenchingly glad to have been here for my family (and myself) this last year.  I was so grateful for the freedom to work outside in our gardens last summer, to feel dirt on my hands and the sun on my shoulders, to be tired after a day in the garden (sore, but in a good way), and to enjoy working around the plants in the garden and see them produce the fruits and vegetables that we are enjoying with every meal now, in the deepest winter.

Of course I miss the shop.  When you build something like that from the ground up and design every inch of it, it has its own heartbeat.  It becomes part of you and part of who you are.  I have no desire to start over, or do a "few cakes now and then".  None.  I guess maybe, sure, I could have tried harder to find a way to make it work and keep going, but it was sucking the life out of me, and I was starting to hate it, even though I loved the creative outlet, income, and, I suppose, the status that it afforded. 
I miss the wedding industry.  I miss the ever-changing wedding trends to keep up with, and new techniques to master.  I miss my artist-self's ability to find inspiration for cakes everywhere, and the creative challenge of turning out a perfect and artistic wedding or event cake for someone's special day.  I miss the huge sense of accomplishment and pride in a job well done, when the cake is delivered, and it's exactly what the bride dreamed of.  
I miss seeing my work in photo spreads in local and national magazines and on wedding blogs.  I miss the reputation of being one of the area's top wedding vendors. I was on the verge of sort of a wider national name for myself when I quit, so there's that to wonder about--what if? At the date of my last and biggest photo layout in a national cake magazine, featuring a bio about me (and a PICTURE of me, omg)...the shop was actually already closed, which was surreal, at best.  That particular cake is still gathering dust upstairs; I can't bring myself to throw it in the trash, where the others all went.  

I loved all the vendors and our collaborative efforts and camaraderie on bridal shows and photo shoots.  I miss that sense of community and dedication to our industry.
I miss my vendor friends, who, as it turns out, have disappeared altogether, so maybe I should say they were acquaintances, or "business contacts", but I guess they weren't actually friends.  When you step out of an industry, it definitely goes on without you, as I knew it would. I wasn't quite expecting the actual people to disappear, too--but,'s not truly a surprise.  Well, OK, yeah, it is kind of a surprise, but--eh *shrug*--I guess we wouldn't have anything to talk about now any more, anyway.  Maybe it doesn't help to talk to someone who's left your industry and is glad to be out of it.  No one wants to hear that. 

Me:  "Yeah…my life is so much more fulfilling now that I'm not in your line of work anymore." 

Them:  "(nothing)"

 Maybe it's hard to imagine that someone can purposely leave an industry when they are at the top of their game, and have that be OK.  It would have been nice, though, to have any of them, even just once, reach out with a phone call or an email (or heck, a text) to say, "Hey.  Miss you. How's it going?"  Not surprising, but…yeah, disappointing.  I guess we all want to be liked for ourselves, too, not just because we're "useful industry connections". 
It's all good, though.  My real friends are still here, who loved me before I was a cake decorator, while I was a cake decorator, and after I quit, and I love them right back. 
What I don't miss is the hours and the lack of sleep and the lack of just TIME to be with my family.  Time to do all the other things I have always loved…traveling and gardening and reading, knitting, crocheting, cross-stitching, painting, sewing, baking (for us), canning, entertaining, swimming and working out, and yes, even simple things like keeping my own house clean.  Now, I have time to do all those things, plus I can be on hand for my kids' school events, help with their projects, and I even can attend every single volleyball and basketball game now, without it being a juggling act and a guilt trip because, OMG, I should be working on a CAKE.
(I know…rambling…but I wrote this at 1:30 a.m., so give me a break, ok? I'm thinking out loud…)
I wanted to leave on a positive note, and what originally got me out of bed and started on writing this post was actually the memory of my last cake, last year.  It was a wall-hanger, and it was sort of my creative swan song.  It also epitomized everything I loved, and everything I hated about cakes.  Here's the story.  I'd try to be brief, but you already know that isn't going to happen.  Thanks for listening, though.
It was for a lovely lady, a friend of a dear old friend, whose mother was turning 85.  She was an adorable Polish woman named Ivanka, whose Polish accent reminded me so much of my grandmother that I wanted her to come home and read me a bedtime story, every night, forever. (She declined.) She had always been an artist, so they wanted her cake to somehow incorporate that aspect of her life…and could I somehow use her paintings as inspiration?  So I designed a square cake and did my best to recreate her paintings, one on each side of the cake.  They were impressionistic and very modern-art-ish and colorful, and it was a cake painter's dream. 

The tricky part was that:  1) It was due on our anniversary.  2)  The date also happened to be the day of our school's biggest fundraiser of the year, for our oldest child's senior trip, which I was helping organize, and 3)  That fundraiser was slated to begin at with everyone meeting on site at 7:00 a.m.  I knew I would have to break away from the fundraiser to go deliver this cake around 1 p.m. that day, so it had to be done the night before.
I baked and covered the tiers with fondant in the two days before the event, then stacked the tiers the night before.  I didn't even start to paint this cake until 11:30 p.m. that night (No--I don't know why, but it's not unusual, when you're working on cakes).  It took me until 4:55 a.m. to finish painting it.  My alarm clock was scheduled to go off at 5:45 a.m., so I finished painting it and laid on the couch for 30 minutes; then I heard everyone's alarm clocks start going off, and we all got up and left for the fundraiser.   I had catnapped for 30 minutes before starting our anniversary day…
Here are the pictures of her artwork, side-by-side with the cake sides that each painting was converted into, after 5 hours of painting...
Her painting, above left, and the design I painted on the cake, at right and below:
Below--another side, painting at left, cake at right:
Tentacle painting at left, cake at right, below:
Last side, painting at left, cake at right:
If you're a cake decorator, you can just imagine how fun this was!

I loved it, even though at about 3 a.m. while painting, I was getting sort of delirious, and I was all… "I can feel what she was thinking when she painted this.  I know her."  No idea what that meant, but at 3 a.m., it seemed pretty profound, you know?
I survived the day and the fundraiser, and delivered the cake to the party for the family, and it was so worth it, to see the look on the daughter's face when she saw it, and then I got to be there when they led her mother in for the surprise of it, covered with my rendition of four of her paintings, one of each side of the cake.  I got a hug (and a lot of money).  She was the star of the day, and it was the perfect cake for her.  And it was the perfect ending for me, too.  One last blast of creative and bittersweet energy went into a cake that kept me awake all night, left me staggeringly tired for the whole day, dragging myself through a day filled with 30 teenagers and a fundraising effort that raised $3,400.00 in 6 hours, but also deeply gratified to the depth of my artist's soul (and my artist's vanity), while simultaneously robbing my husband and me of the usual way we celebrate our anniversary--together, alone, and not exhausted…
This year, I promise--we are spending it differently.  And there will not be cake involved, unless someone else bakes it and delivers it up with room service.
The moral?  I don't know.  I guess it would be that even though, yes, I sometimes miss the one thing I gave up…then I think of all the many things I've been blessed to have back, and I remember that, no, I'm not sorry after all. 

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has ever found themselves looking back on a chapter of their life and finding that it was very much like a trip down the rabbit hole:  full of odd experiences, some new friends, some scary people, and then suddenly--whoosh--you're back up for air and back to your real life again, and wondering, "Did that really all just happen?" the heck...was THAT all about?


  1. This is a lovely post, sister. Thank you for sharing. And those pictures. OMG...they are simply AMAZING

    1. Aww thanks! I realized this week, again, how much I loved the way that cake turned out. Maybe I should start painting again.... :D

  2. Ivanka and Barb LOVED that cake, and they still talk about it. You are awesome, my friend.

    1. They were SO awesome to work with! I'd love to paint another one like that someday. Or maybe ... just paint on canvas? Say hi to them for me!