Sunday, August 18, 2013

Good Trade--Memoir of an Ex-Wedding Cake Decorator

(Warning: this one's long--but if you're here, you know that already. You can skim down to a condensed list of pros and cons.  Way, way down...)

I've been thinking a lot during this, my first summer back to my real life after 12 years of amping up and up and up in the wedding industry, and then pulling the e-brake on the hectic-ness.  I've mentally made a note (well, very often it's out loud) most days when I find myself doing something so...not...what I was doing everysimilarday for the last 5 summers.  It's accumulated to where I thought I should write it all down, so here goes.

My kids are pretty much tired of me saying "Oh my gosh, you guys.  Do you realize we are at the beach?? On a Friday!?" They're like "Ummm yeah, we know.  You mentioned that already."

If you haven't worked in the wedding industry, you may not know the youhavenolife part that vendors deal with, every weekend during wedding season, year after year.  No. Life.  Also, this means that my family had no life while I was busy long hours every weekday, and sometimes 20 hour shifts on crazy weekends.  No, I can't drive for the field tripNo, we can't go to the beach, or the mall, or the the fair, or the library for your homework assigment books that you HAVE to read before tomorrow.  No I can't go camping this weekend... maybe October?  Seriously, beach? Once per summer.  North Idaho Fair? Um, not in the last 4 years.  (It's this week, by the way, and we are SO going.  Like, opening day, 11 a.m., we're all over it.)

And our property, the 5 acres of roses, perennials, pond garden, and 5,000 square foot vegetable garden that once were lovely? Forget it.  As a cake decorator, my butt was locked in a sealed box of a kitchen while summer (my favorite, beloved summer) was something that went on "out there".  Without me.  Every year.  I did get outside once a week at home, to mow the grass...the rest of the time I just watched as it all slid into a Yard Disaster Area.  I had a lady ask me recently, "Hey, I saw your husband's truck parked (at our house) the other day.  Did you guys just move there?  That's cool. I didn't think anyone lived there lately".  And I was like..."Uh, no.  We've been there 13 years".   Awkward. 

Having closed the bakery, shut off the phone and website, I rolled up my sleeves and went home.  We planted the garden and (to my constant amazement) were able to turn a field of weeds back into this:
My kids don't even remember a time when we HAD a garden
It's funny how you forget the simple pleasures of an everyday life at an everyday pace.  I have time to sit on the back deck or the porch swing and eat lunch with a book, hang laundry outside to dry, and wash dishes (yes, after each meal. I know, right?). I know every plant in the garden, what's ripening, and when it will be ready to pick.  We are eating fresh entire meals from the garden now--last night everything on Shane's dinner plate, we grew ourselves.  Every Bite.  Awesome.

And the canning! Canning?! I can't remember the last time I had time to preserve food, and I love it.  I finally found a recipe for pickles that taste like Klausens, only better.  See?  This one's going in The Book (the only thing we can think of to call the cookbook so far).

I've had time to work on the cookbook project, which started out being for my kids as a graduation/now you're a grownup gift, but suddenly everyone we know wants a copy (that's cool, it will be pretty awesome). 

I'm finishing knitting a sweater for Shane and one for me (both have been half-done for 3 years or more.  Each.)  And a scarf.  I'm almost done with a cross-stitch that I started about 8 years ago.  For perspective, a sweater can take me a couple of days sometimes, and cross-stitches are usually a seasonal or yearly project. 

I have time to mend stuff as needed, before we forget that we own it--instead of leaving that sad pile of broken spaghetti straps and missing buttons clothes that you can't give to Goodwill (you can't donate that; it's ripped) but you also can't use it as a cleaning rag (are you kidding? This is from Victoria's Secret!!)

I have time to vacuum and sweep now, just because, anytime it needs it, not just that quick Saturday-night-before-our-only-day-off-ohmigosh sweep, so you don't wake up on your only possible day off and spend it looking at dust bunny colonies under the entertainment center, large enough to run up their own long-distance phone bills and demand equal rights. 

I all sounds so...mundane.  But there's something so homey and satisfying and, I don't know, well-managed, about having time, just pure, simple TIME, to do a little chore that's needed, right when the need arises; to be creative in your own kitchen and make a gourmet wonderful dinner (and yes, dessert, but so far--no cake) for my family, who, needless to say, love all of it.  That alone has made it so rewarding.  Eventually, I will make us a cake, but not yet.  Soon, though...

Now, instead of getting up at 5 a.m. and leaving quietly without waking anyone up, to go to the bakery for the next 16 hours...I get up around the crack of, oh, 7-8:30, have coffee with Shane, work at my desk running our business (which I have always helped him run, along with my cake business--and which in itself has always been an every-day job), then grab a basket and head out to the garden to see what's ripe, gather eggs (I love my chickies!), and hang out some laundry.

Now I can enjoy going to my daughter's volleyball and basketball games (every one, AND be a driver for field trips), without having to mentally silently calculate what time I have to go to work tomorrow because I gave up 3 hours today (5 a.m.? 4? ahmagash!!).

To those who ask, how can you just give up cakes? That was your *passion*, I have to say, no, it wasn't.  It was one of my passions.  But when one thing takes over and you trade every other interest in your life for it, then you have no time for any of the other joys in life.  Maybe some people can go through life, having never lived the regular days or taken time to do All The Things with their spouse and kids, in pursuit of--what? exactly?--Recognition? Money?  Fame? WTH? I didn't want to be old and remembering...yeah, that one wedding.  Now THAT was a great weekend.  Really?  And yes, I get it--why didn't you just, you know, hire help?!?  Kneejerk solution.  Then I'd have to make more cakes, to afford the help.  And the free interns? Are you serious? Can you say training your own competition?

If you are skimming through this thinking criminy, woman, do you have to talk so MUCH? Here's a condensed version of what I "gave up" and things I have always loved, that I do now, instead.

Doing now:                                                          Instead of:
Creative cooking for family                                      Baking for strangers
Gardening and preserving                                         Decorating cakes for strangers
Taking kids to the beach                                            Meeting for cake consults and tasting
Shopping for clothes                                                    Shopping for bakery supplies
Going to the beach                                                         Decorating more cakes
Cleaning my house, every day                                 Cleaning a bakery, every day
Yard maintenance                                                         Commuting to work in airless bakery
Knitting, cross-stitching, quilting                       Filling, crumbcoating, and frosting cakes
Painting, crocheting                                                      Decorating even more cakes
Driving to camp for the weekend                       Driving to three venues to set up cakes
Camping                                                                             Wedding set up
Reading in the hammock on a Friday               Wondering how to finish 4 wedding cakes
Working on a cookbook for my kids                      Working on wedding cake sketches
Planning a medicinal herb garden                   Planning a photo shoot for xyz magazine
Dodging bees in the garden                             Dodging bride/momzillas (you know who you are)
Writing a blog                                                      Writing cake contracts/estimates/invoices
Answering the phone for one business         Answering phone/email for 2 businesses
Perusing the internet for...whatever           Perusing the internet for cake trends/colors
Having kid sleepovers                                                  Wishing I could sleep    
Wondering what to make for dinner             Wondering who's taking my place in the biz
Not caring who knows me                                      Networking to keep my name Out There
Sleeping IN on Saturday                                              Napping on a bean bag on bakery floor
Sitting in the hot tub watching it rain           Standing in February rain outside a venue
Meeting friends for lunch                           Meeting venders for business brainstorming
Meeting friends for dinner and drinks                   Setting up bridal festivals and events
Sitting in the garden with Shane at sunset            Texting Shane from bakery at 11 p.m.
Riding 4-wheelers with Shane and the kids    Driving home, window down (yay, wind!)
Going to bed, on time, tired and happy     Bed at 1:30 a.m., exhausted, alarm set for 5

See? Good. Trade.
There you have it.  I loved cakes, and brides, and weddings, and my vendor friends (miss them the most, aside from the car), don't get me wrong.  But it became ALL I was doing, so it had to go.

My view on a Friday afternoon, instead of a fridge full of un-iced cake tiers for tomorrow's 3-5 weddings, three Kitchenaid mixers full of icing, and a commercial sink full of dishes, is THIS:
It's not just once a summer anymore!


  1. I'm sure it was a hard decision to close your business but it sounds like the best decision ever!

    And, I want that pickle recipe. :)

    1. Thanks Cindy! You can email me directly for the recipe if you like :)

  2. Only just seen this as I procrastinate and delay starting work (at 10.50 am!!!!!) I know it’s 5 years old but it really resonates with me. Won’t go into it but let’s just say it’s made me think about my self-employment and all the fresh air I am missing. With summer coming...mmmmm....I need to think of a new strategy. No, bank robbery isn’t a strategy, it’s a CRIME. Keep thinking...