Cakes that feel good

OK – so ALL cake probably makes you feel good. But not all cakes make me feel as good as my last two.

Earlier this year, I was contacted by an IC student who was organizing this year’s Relay for Life. She asked if I would be willing to donate a cake for the survivor’s reception. I made a similar cake last year, and agreed right away. The day she contacted me also happened to be the day I found out a friend’s husband was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer (he’s never smoked), so it felt especially important to help out with this request.

sugar 1389

I’ve been registered with another nonprofit, Icing Smiles, for a while now. Icing Smiles is an organization that accepts requests for cakes from families who have a child (or children) facing a critical illness.  They apparently receive an average of 52 requests a week from families across the US, and they do their best to find a volunteer baker to donate a dream cake for each child.

About a month ago, Icing Smiles contacted me to see if I would make a cake for a 2-year-old boy named Paul who has been fighting for his life since the day he was born. Doctors had actually told the parents his birth defects were so severe that they should just “let nature run its course,” but they refused to give up on the little guy. And tomorrow, he turns 2 — how could I refuse a request like this?

Paul loves the Wiggles, an Australian children’s band that I had never heard of. I made the mistake of plugging their name into YouTube and watching a video, and then had one of their songs stuck in my head for 5 straight days. It was positively maddening, and my respect goes out any parent who has to listen to that insanity on a daily basis.

If you MUST watch it, here’s the link:

Please remember, I warned you.

For Paul’s cake, I decided to play on the theme of one of the Wiggles’ most popular songs, called Big Red Car. In the video, the entire band stuffs itself into a  red car and goes for a ride. The guy in the back — Jeff — falls asleep for a while. So naturally, he needed a snooze on my cake as well.

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(Remember, this is an Australian band… so the steering wheel’s on the right side of the car!)

Here’s the cake in all its glory:

wiggles 1391

I had a lot of fun making this cake, despite the never-ending ear worm that resulted from watching that hideous Wiggles video. But more than that, I feel really honored, and am humbled, to play a teeny, tiny role in bringing some joy to a family that clearly needs it. I hope this is the second of many, many birthdays for Paul — and I hope Icing Smiles will contact me again.

If my little hobby can do some good in this world, that makes it all the more worth it.

40 before 40: the art of dance, circus and fibers

Now that I’ve introduced the idea behind my somewhat-backwards bucket list, I want to talk about my first three items. I’m counting these because they are all very recent and ongoing new activities, and like I said – I make the rules.

#1. Learn to tap dance.

I took tap dancing lessons when I was about 5, like almost every little girl in America. I have no idea how long I took it for – if I remember right, I decided pretty quickly that I liked ballet better. Regardless, I certainly didn’t retain any of the skills I acquired.

Back in 2010, I was walking into work with my friend and colleague Wendy, and we were bemoaning the fact that we didn’t have enough time in our days to audit classes at IC, which is one of the awesome benefits of working there. Wendy mentioned that she had looked at taking a tap dancing class, but the timing didn’t work for her. “That’s cool!” I said. “If you ever do decide to take it, let me know – that might be kind of fun.”

For the next four years, we never even mentioned tap dancing again.

On one of the first Fridays in January, I was sitting at my desk, feeling a little antsy. I get that way when I don’t have something new or interesting to look forward to. I was suddenly struck with inspiration and sent an instant message to Wendy. “Hey, did you ever look into tap dancing classes?”

“NO,” she responded almost immediately. “Let’s look now!”

We dug into IC’s course catalog and discovered that only advanced tap dancing was offered during the spring semester. “Bummer,” Wendy wrote. “Maybe next fall?”

I wasn’t ready to admit defeat, so I popped over to google and searched for tap dancing classes for adults in Ithaca. Within a few seconds, I was directed to a local arts nonprofit — where a beginning tap dancing class was starting the very next week.

“I FOUND US A CLASS!!!” I wrote to Wendy. Within 3 minutes — I’m not even slightly exaggerating here — we had both registered.

On a hunch, I sent an instant message to another friend and colleague of mine, Claudia. “Any interest in learning to tap dance?” I asked.

“Are you serious?” she replied.

“As a heart attack,” I wrote.

“I have always wanted to learn to tap dance! It’s been a goal of mine for forever!”

The pieces all fell into place so wonderfully and easily. Claudia did take a little more convincing — which was ironic since she was the only one of the three of us who actually had a previous and burning desire to tap dance. But by that evening, she too had registered, and we ordered shoes with rush delivery so they’d arrive before our first class.

We’ve had eight classes so far, and have two more to go. But all three of us like it so much that we’ve already signed up for a second session of classes this spring. We’re not very good, and we’re learning all our steps in super slow motion. But boy, is it fun! And hard! And a workout!

#2. Learn aerial silks.

Three years ago, on our way to Tahiti, Scott and I had a 24 hour layover in Los Angeles, and we decided to take a flying trapeze class.  You can see the highlights of that class below.

As you can see, Scott morphed into a circus monkey and was swinging upside down and practicing catches by the end of the class. All I could manage was to swing back and forth and not die.

While flying trapeze was really, really fun, and I’m glad I tried it — it was a bit… too much… for me to pursue on any sort of ongoing basis. Too much adrenaline, too much coordination, too much stress. While we were there, I did notice a few people playing around on aerial silks and it looked like an activity that was more my speed. I mentally stored the idea away.

A couple of weekends ago, I found myself in Boston for work. I had one day completely to myself, and searched online for something fun and unique to do. I discovered that one of the (giant) furniture stores outside the city was also home to a circus school. I joyfully signed myself up for a silks class.

I arrived for the 2-hour class and three things immediately became clear:

1) Every customer in the furniture store could watch the lessons, making this a very public event.

2) There were only three people in my class, allowing us a lot of time with the instructor.

3) My fellow classmates were two 9-year-old girls who, I swear, were made out of rubber bands.

Happy to report that I loved every second of my class, even though I was far less stretchy than the 9-year-olds. It was so much more fun than trapeze — and a killer workout to boot! I asked one of my new friends to take a photo of me doing an inversion — this was just one of about 20 “tricks” we learned.

1507920_10152111573724051_1657911101_nI am going to New York City for a 50-mile bike ride in a few weeks, and I’ve already signed up for another silks class while I’m there. I’m dragging along a friend as well — she’s also doing the bike ride with me. I’m thinking we might regret doing a circus class 12 hours before a 50-mile-bike ride, but hey – at least we’re in it together, right?

#3. Learn to felt.

Back in January, Claudia asked me if I’d take a felting class with her, and like the tap dancing, I agreed without really even knowing what I was getting myself into. Truth be told, I wasn’t really sure what felting even was.

Basically, you use little insanely sharp needles to shape raw wool into 3D objects. You can also “paint” by poking the wool through a piece of fabric.

We’ve taken three classes so far.  The downside is that our cat Charlie apparently has taste for wool, and has chewed on everything I’ve brought home. But luckily, I have photos to prove I did it.

During our first class, I made a white sheep and Claudia made a brown one.


During the second class, we “painted” birds. I made a puffin.


And during the third class, we made baby birds.  Claudia made a baby chicken in honor of the baby chickens she’s currently raising. I made a duckling, in honor of my brother and Liz’s new baby ducks.


See the resemblance?


Three new things down, 37 to go!


40 Before 40: a journey into the unknown

I envy people with bucket lists. (For anyone wondering, that’s a list of things you want to do before you “kick the bucket.”)

I envy people with bucket lists because I love to cross things off of lists. I am a do-er. I like to get stuff done. I am the kind of person who does something, and then adds it to a to-do list, just so I can cross it off.

So here’s the obvious question: why don’t I have a bucket list?

The answer is simple: I have absolutely no idea what to put on it.

I have already done so many of the things that I think people put on bucket lists. I have gone sky-diving and hot air ballooning. I am certified for scuba diving. I lived abroad. I have felt true love. I completed triathlons. I hiked a 14,000 foot mountain. I swam with sting rays. I traveled to many amazing places — too many to list here. I ate grits with Bill Clinton.

In 27 months, I turn 40. (I know. I have several family members who just read that and gasped.) I have a crappy knee and I take a daily vitamin to keep my macular degeneration from progressing. I’ve said goodbye to friends and family who passed away as a result of both disease and accidents. I no longer feel invincible, like I did in my 20s.

My mortality is real, and while it scares me a little, it’s also a great source of motivation. Our time on this precious planet is limited, and that inspires me to embrace it.

But all of that doesn’t help put items on a bucket list.

So I have decided to start a bucket list the only way I know how– I’m going to do something and then add it to the list so I can cross it off.

My goal is to do 40 bucket-list-worthy items by the time I turn 40.

Is this backwards? I don’t know, and I don’t care. This way of doing things fits with my lifestyle. While I do like planning some things, like travel, I enjoy seizing life’s little moments even more. (Case in point: I signed up for a 10-week tap dancing class after a 3-minute conversation with a friend. I spent more time trying to convince another friend to join us than I did thinking about whether or not it would be something *I* would enjoy.)

It’s my bucket-list, right? So I get to make the rules.

I arrived at this idea earlier this week – and as it’s settled in, I’ve gotten more excited about it, mostly because I have absolutely no idea where this will take me. But what I do know is this: in just 27 short months, I’ll have done 40 new things.

I can’t think of a more awesome way to start a new decade.

Another post about how cold it is, because that’s all that’s happening here

On Monday morning, I opened our front door and was shocked to discover that my eyeballs didn’t immediately freeze inside their sockets. It was blissfully not windy for the first time in many days, and — dare I say it — it actually felt… warm.

I climbed into my car and started the ignition. That’s when the temperature gauge flashed on.

8 degrees.

Yes. 8 degrees.

8 degrees feels warm.

I (obviously) was well aware of how horrendous this winter has been before that moment. But the realization that a single digit temperature felt nice still shocked and somewhat horrified me.

I get annoyed when people complain about the weather. We live in a climate with seasons, and those seasons have extremes, and that’s what makes this region so lovely. Every season is a different experience, and I like to celebrate them all.

That said, I have celebrated enough winter this year. Even my cold-weather-loving brother is starting to complain — though that may have something to do with the fact that his household chore is to get up in the middle of the night and add wood to the stove so he and Liz and the dogs don’t freeze to death. An average winter night has him up a couple of times — this winter has been so bad that he’s actually curled up and slept next to the stove, his pile of wood within arm’s reach, so he can roll over every hour and stuff another log in the fire.

This winter has been so bad that my warm-blooded hubby — whose ideal temperature range is 77-110 degrees — has actually mentioned on several occasions that our rare 30-degree day feels tropical.

Enough, Mother Nature!  You win!

But alas, winter is not over.

The National Weather Service posted this photo to their Facebook page a few days ago. It’s stunning because if you don’t know where to look, you  can’t find all of the Finger Lakes. They are completely covered in ice. (Lake Ontario (at the top) has significant ice cover, too – it’s the only Great Lake that hasn’t yet frozen completely.)


That blue squiggle in the middle on the right is Cayuga Lake – Ithaca is on the southern end of it. Both the southern and northern ends are covered in ice. Seneca Lake is the blue squiggle on the left, and apparently is filled with anti-freeze.

Here’s a clear weather version for comparison.


A few weeks ago, I snapped this photo at the state park a couple of miles from our house:


This is that same waterfall yesterday:


Taughannock in October:


Taughannock now:

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And (this is the most disturbing to me), this is Lower Taughannock on a “normal” day:


And this is Lower Taughannock now:

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An entire waterfall is buried under a blanket of snow and ice!

There’s so much ice that Taughannock’s creeks have overflowed and sent giant ice boulders into the picnic areas.


BBQ Grill


Drinking fountain.


That’s a park bench.

Want another crazy comparison?  This is me, during the Cayuga Lake Triathlon a couple of years ago.  See the bridge in the background, to the left?  The path I’m on runs under it. Scott took this photo while standing on a rock wall.


This is that same area and that same bridge.  The rock wall where Scott was standing is on the left.DSC_0425

This is top end of Beebe Lake at Cornell last May:DSC_0039

And today:

DSC_0421 2I will admit that this insane winter has allowed me to experience a side of Ithaca I’ve never had a chance to see before, and that’s somewhat entertaining. However, I’m OK if we were to start to ease into warmer weather now. I’m ready for things to get back to normal.

The great thaw of 2014

The sun came out today! Temperatures got above freezing! OH HAPPY DAY!

I’m sure winter will be back soon, but for a few hours, it was really nice to see signs of life again.

Enjoy these photos from my hike today.  (Also – I’m really digging the colors.  It’s so easy to see winter as a very “white” season.  Not so!)





There are a lot of disappointed people reading this blog right now

I occasionally check my stats, and I get a kick out of the random searches that bring people to this blog.  Here are some of the search terms from the past month.

“man thong” (16 of you searched for this in 30 days. This is what you’re looking for. For the record, I feel weird linking to a post about my husband.)

“my first man thong” (See above. And congratulations!)

“severely swollen ankles up to the knee with weird snake-like rash” (Look, I’m all in favor of self-diagnosing through the internet. But you need a doctor, not a blog about sloths, cakes and tap dancing.)

“i think i need professional help i am obsessed with sloths” (Tell me about it.)

“how to dry a wet futon” (Here is how not to do it.)

“secret strong enuf for a man?” (Probably. Just don’t wear it into a florist shop in DC.)

“cake to celebrate coming home from successful surgery to remove a small piece of left kidney” (Oddly, Ithacake has not been commissioned for an occasion like this. Yet.)

“imperialism in the Finger Lakes” (I’m really sorry. Google failed you. Also – did you mean “Finger Lakes” or “18th Century Great Britain?” I can see how you might confuse the two.)

“destruction of baby pumpkin plants” (Yay! You found me! I am an expert.)

The night we made a big mistake and almost became a podcast

Not willing to waste what might be the last ski day of the season (because of rising temperatures and the threat of rain), Liz, Steve and I decided to meet for a post-work cross-country ski on Monday night.  I’ve skied at twilight in the past, but never at night, so I was excited to try an activity I enjoy during the silence and cold of a night sky. I had a very romanticized image of what it might be like gliding through the forest, our path illuminated by the bright moon.  Like this:


Doesn’t that look lovely?

We arrived at our trailhead shortly after sunset.  Immediately, I could sense that our trek would be a bit more difficult that I had imagined.  Mostly because after we climbed out of our cars and strapped on our skis, this is what it looked like:

BlackBoxWe strapped headlamps to our foreheads and began skiing into the dense forest.  The first half mile or so of trail was a gradual downhill, and it was a wonderful feeling to glide along in silence, our skis crunching softly in the snow under our feet.

About 10 minutes into our ski, Steve stopped to change out the batteries in his headlamp, which was dying. The “new” batteries didn’t work much better, casting only a tiny beam of light onto the ground below. We laughed a bit and carried on.

Fifteen minutes later, my headlamp failed completely.  I could turn it back on, but it would stay illuminated for only about 15 seconds before turning itself off again.

As I write this story now, it seems ridiculous that we didn’t realize our batteries were freezing and it might be a good idea to turn around.  But we just kept laughing about it and skiing away.

And then it just got insane. Steve’s lamp began putting off the equivalent amount of light that a small firefly emits on a warm summer night.  My headlamp only worked in “blinking” mode. Liz’s headlamp started turning itself off randomly.

Finally, we realized it might be a good idea to head back to the car.  Actually, I think Steve’s exact words were, “I think it’s time to head home before we become a Moth story.”

Here’s the video I had shot up until this point:

You’ll note that we’re still laughing.  However, about 10 seconds after I finished the last clip, my phone died. Then Liz’s phone died. Then my headlamp failed completely, and I was skiing blindly, trying to use the outline of Steve’s weak lamp to navigate and the edges of his tracks to help guide my skis.

Soon enough, the trail came to a T-junction, and Liz and Steve — who still had a tiny amount of light coming from their lamps — made the sharp left turn without problems. However, I didn’t see this maneuver, so I glided right through the intersection and landed in thigh-deep snow.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been buried in snow up to your waist, with skis strapped to your feet. If not, it feels a little like this:

Too Much Snow

Obviously, we made it out alive.  And actually, it was a lot of fun. I’m not sure I’d do it again – at least not without a cold-hearty headlamp and knowledge that it may not be the zen-like experience I imagine – but it was memorable.  And for that, I’m grateful – for what is life without a great adventure now and then?


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