I need a standing desk.
For an update on my back, I bit the bullet and got a lumbar epidural earlier this month. It wasn’t really how I wanted to treat my condition, as I knew it wast really going to solve the entire problem. But I was dying to have a little bit of my life back. Being in constant pain has thrown a veil over everything in these past few months, and I needed it lifted. And although the timing was unintentional, it was perfect – I never would have survived plane rides and entire days sitting at Erma had I not gotten the shot.
When I was in the worst pain, I avoided chairs at all costs. A mere ten minutes of sitting, and I had to mentally prepare myself to stand up, knowing I was about to endure excruciating pain. I avoided work (more than usual), stood up to eat my meals (more than usual), and made really elaborate dinners (definitely more than usual).
Unfortunately for my back, my job involves lots and lots of sitting, writing all the things and sending all the emails. Fortunately for me, I can pretty much get up whenever I want to stretch. Or check the fridge. Or take the dog out. Or go check my hair in the mirror. [Insert procrastination method of choice here]
The shot has been a godsend, but I’m not completely pain free. I still feel a little twinge when I get up in the morning or if I’ve been sitting too long. I excused myself from some sessions at Erma or even from dinner to walk around and stretch my back out after a long day of sitting. But still, it was a thousand times better than pre-shot pain. And now I’m being super diligent about my physical therapy, because I’m absolutely terrified that the pain will come back full force. And no one wants to see a grown woman cry.
So at physical therapy the other day, I noticed that my therapist uses a standing desk. It’s a mobile version on casters, kind of like a hospital tray. And I was like “I NEED ONE OF THOSE.” Only maybe less hospitaly.
Apparently standing desks are kind of a thing? Apparently it’s come to light that sitting for hours on end is bad for us? I wasn’t aware. I’ve been too busy raising children and never sitting for the past 6 years to brush up on the latest ergonomic fads. But now I want all the standing desks.
Tip: if you’re looking to get into the non-boring standing desk Etsy business, you can apparently make a fortune. You’re welcome.
Reclaimed wood? Iron legs? Adjustable? Yes, yes, and yes. $1300? NOPE.
Oooh modern, and with drawers. Yellow clock not included. I asked.
I really like this simple little desk. Surely I can MAKE THIS MYSELF for less than $478. Then again, if you saw my “home list” you’d try to convince me that $478 was well worth the effort I would NOT have to put forth.
What about you? Do you sit or stand?
Last week Rachel and Claire each published a book in their kindergarten class. Claire wrote and illustrated a mini-memoir about visiting the Great Wolf Lodge last year, while Rachel wrote about how Mommy comes to wake her up in the morning. I was able to see their process from first draft to final, and now I had little writers who were so proud of their work. God bless those teachers who patiently help them revise and edit those stories from we wit to grt wf ldje it was fun we wit swmmg to something slightly less headache inducing.
I just returned from the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, a conference centered around humor writing, publishing, and honoring the late great Erma herself. It was, in a word, remarkable. There’s nothing like being surround by something you are passionate about to get you inspired and totally pumped for your next project. And really, where else are you going to be stuffed in a room with a hundred or so other people who all say things like OMG I LOOOOOVE thesaurus.com!
Here are reasons YOU should attend the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop.
You will learn that it’s okay to own it
Admit you’re a writer, and people ask when you’re going to write the next Great American Novel. But admit you’re a humor writer, and people look at you expectantly, like okay, so BE FUNNY. Which is why I tend not to declare those types of goods on my writerly customs form. It’s just too much pressure.
But truth be told, I to like to make people laugh, or at the least, I like to make myself laugh. If I scroll through my blog, I find more funny than I do not, and I know that’s my true voice. So here I go. I’m declaring it. I am a humor writer. Ish. But seriously, I’m not a performing monkey, so stop waiting for me to be funny.
Your voice/story/idea/passion is valid
How many people have said Well I kinda wanted to write a book about ______, but that’s all been done before. Well, sure it has. By someone else. But not by YOU.
If there’s one thing that was repeated by several faculty members, it’s that your perspective is what will make your project unique. Author Kelsey Timmerman suggested we to find the thing that we are perfectly suited to write about. Writer and humor columnist Gina Barreca urged us to tell our stories the way we alone can. Humor author Dan Zevin encouraged everyone to be true to your point of view. Your unique perspective is what makes something funny.
Basically, who cares if someone has written a book about whatever it is you want to write a book about? YOU haven’t written it yet.
Tell all the truth but tell it slant,
Success in circuit lies
You’ll find idols, new and old
Two days before the conference I decided it would be a good idea to actually look at the sessions and figure out where I wanted to go, and that’s when I noticed that one of my favorite humor authors was leading a session. I’d chatted with Dan Zevin on twitter briefly after I read his book last year, so I was stunned awkward when he recognized my name and declared us “old friends.”
As for new author crushes, I loved listening to Lisa Scottoline and her daughter Francesca Serritella speak about writing humor and working as a mother/daughter team. I’m now putting my three girls through rigorous training to see who can come out on top as my new sidekick.
You will be among your people
I have friends and loved ones in from many different fields, and I adore them all, but there’s truly nothing like being around my people.
Okay, maybe I wasn’t exactly comfortable until the second day and the third drink, but you know what I mean. Writers at every turn, fabulous speakers who were truly experts in their field and masters of their craft, and of course, hilarious to boot. And lots and lots of friends, old and new. There’s nothing like exchanging business cards with someone and then saying OMG I KNOW YOU! Instant friends.
(Almost) Everyone is awkward
I can be outgoing and open and funny online. That’s truly a part of my personality. But meet me in person for the first time and be prepared to be underwhelmed by my less than sparkling personality. I’m all Hey! You’re ________! It’s so great to meet you in person finally! And then… Now what? Am I supposed to keep talking? What do I say? Why are there no words coming out of my mouth? Why am I sweating?
And (almost) everyone felt the same way. I think.
The downsides? Well, you’ll eat a lot of conference food, so pack some protein bars in your bag for those days when you just can’t with the chicken salad and ambiguous rice mound. And when you crack a joke in the airport on your way home, you’ll realize that no one at this airport thinks you are funny. They’re all boring duds.
And that’s when you’ll start counting the days until Erma 2016.
A couple of weeks ago I spent an entire Saturday and the following Monday and Tuesday evenings sitting in a chair, my coffee cup and bags of Hot Tamales within arm’s reach, listening to stories. We were auditioning potential cast members for Listen to Your Mother: Austin.
There were beautiful stories, hilarious stories, heartfelt stories, and feel good stories. OMG THE STORIES. Austin has some wicked talent.
I anticipated that producing this show would be a challenge. I didn’t know anything about putting a show together, other than what little I took from being in the cast in 2012. The fun part is listening to the essays. How I love listening to the essays. But then there’s the work – the expenses, the marketing, the spreadsheets, OH THE SPREADSHEETS. Little did I know that I would tap back into my left-brain, giving the tired hamster a little exercise on his rusty old wheel. It’s been a while, dude.
My team and I are constantly switching hats, from mom to producer, to director, to printer to accountant to circus clown (usually me). We shift our meetings around child care and school schedules, and then we jet off to start the pick up process. Kristin left auditions early one day to care for her sick little boy. We hold Google hangouts with Tinkerbell running in the background. We stop most work activities in the afternoon hours, so as to devote that time to snacks and homework and playing, and then once the kids are rendered unconscious (like asleep, not like we knocked them out. Maybe.), we start the frenzy of emails back and forth again.
Slowly but surely, it’s coming together. We’re mothering this little show, giving it love, building it up the way we want it, and even comparing it to others, then finding out that, much like your real babies, you can’t compare your show-baby to any other show-babies. Because this show-baby is OUR show-baby, and it will be the best show-baby we can make it.
The 2014 production of Listen to Your Mother Austin takes place on Thursday, May 8 at 7 pm and Saturday, May 10 at 3 pm. Tickets to our show-baby can be found on Eventbrite, and you can find the 2014 cast list on our LTYM Austin site. Can’t wait to see you there.
Things you should know going into this post:
1) Christian and I do not have a perfect marriage. We have a good, strong marriage. He is my best friend and probably the only person around whom I will ever pass gas (on purpose). Not too terribly unrelated (or totally unrelated), I had a friend years ago who never tooted in front of her spouse. I can’t live with those kinds of boundaries. You love me, you gotta love all of me, especially the stinky me.
2) If you can show me someone who claims to have a perfect marriage, I will show you someone who is clearly living a one way fantasy. Or they are a liar. Or they have terrible gas pains from holding it in. I’ll go with all of the above.
So…this may have gotten a bit off track, but the secret to a big chunk of our happiness has nothing to do with tooting. No, the secret to part of our happiness is extremely simple. Like, you’ll read it and say THAT’S IT?! because really, it’s absurd. Here it goes.
We let each other sleep in.
I know it is terribly simple, and I also know that there are SO MANY exhausted women and wives and mothers who don’t get this small, yet extremely meaningful reciprocation. I did a little informal poll on my Facebook page a while back, and most of the responses went something like Gurl, you trippin.’ I never get to sleep in!
Ladies. Seriously. This has to stop. We need this. Look at you, you can barely read this you’re so tired. Your sweater is on inside out, and I think you might be drooling.
I get up early to get kids to school. That sucks. I am the first line of defense when they need food, snacks, a hug, or their butt wiped at 3 am. That really sucks, especially when Christian is RIGHTTHERE. Hand to God, I can sleep on the complete opposite side of the bed, and they will walk all the way around it to get to me instead of bothering him. It’s sweet and all, but TOTALLY UNFAIR.
By the end of the week – well, Tuesday if I’m being honest – I am DEAD TIRED.
So just about every week, unless we have plans, Saturday is my sleep in day. And Sunday is his. Sometimes we switch, maybe if he stayed out late for a Friday night poker game. Sometimes if I have weekend morning plans, I give up my day because I’m thoughtful like that, albeit a bit of a martyr. Depending on how busy we are, the person who got up early usually gets to take a nap later in the day.
[Side note: Naps are NOT a long term substitute for sleeping in. They work on the fly, and they might, in fact, be better than sleeping in, but the thing is, a nap is never guaranteed. So just kick your beloved out of the bed when the kids come a-calling at 6:54 am.]
Now for the next secret:
This did not happen overnight.
Sometimes in telling people that we have this sleeping in arrangement, I get wistful stares and You’re so lucky! and That would never fly with my husband. Mmmhmmmm, girlfriend. I feel you.
But the thing is, this whole thing isn’t about sleeping in at all. It’s about compromise.
Each morning for years, we would both lay in bed, stiff as boards, when the kids cried out, wandered into the room, or we could hear them wreaking havoc in the bathroom. Why isn’t he getting up? I would think-shout. Why isn’t SHE getting up? He would equally think-shout. We could barely hear ourselves over the think-shouting.
And then inevitably, someone would throw the covers back, give a big HARUMPH! and stomp out of the room, almost-not-quite slamming the door on the way out. It was passive aggressiveness at it’s finest. An entire argument covered with no one saying a word. Think-shouting and silent arguing is not the best way to start a morning.
Every few months or so I would reach my breaking point and I would have to talk it out by basically exploding and projecting all of my fatigue onto him with ear splitting shrieks and general nastiness towards everyone. And it would come out that I was just tired, and I would really appreciate it if he would get up with the kids once in a while.
But it never stuck. He eventually slipped back into his groggy ways.
See, instead of continuing to make my needs known, I assumed that he would continue to meet them without fail. And being a flawed human (like we all are) who is SO not a morning person, he failed.
Our partners, they are not mind readers. Oh, I wish he was, but he’s not. I have to nudge him sometimes to do this or that, just like he has to nudge me to show a little extra affection or PDA, which is MY flaw. One of many.
So here’s what I did.
As I was crawling into bed one Friday night, I said, Man, I cannot WAIT for tomorrow.
Him, puzzled: Why’s that?
Me, matter of fact: Because I’m going to sleep in while you get up with the kids!
Oh yes, I did. And I stand corrected: THIS may have been passive aggressiveness at its finest.
But he was cool with it, because deep down inside, he knew I needed this. And after a few weeks of the same, silly passive aggressive statements, we fell into a pattern, and here we are. I don’t really recommend passive aggressive tactics (although they ARE my specialty), but this is what worked for us. It was my way of sitting down and saying Look, dude. I needs me some sleep.
Now for part three.
We don’t let one another sleep all freaking day.
Neither of us really wants to sleep past 9 or so, unless we’re sick or have spent the majority of the night bed-hopping with the children. But we do want to get a good start on the day.
Now when I’m the one who gets up, I get the kids fed and usually let them watch some cartoons to keep them quiet. I use that time to drink my coffee, read some internet, and maybe do some writing. I love those mornings.
When Christian is in charge, it eats him (and the kids) alive that I am sleeping in. They constantly ask Where’s Mommy? Can we wake Mommy up? I NEED MOMMY. And he – no joke – comes in and wakes me up approximately 20 seconds after the clock strikes 9.
They don’t ask about him when he’s sleeping in. ‘Tis a blessing and a curse to be the mom.
Again, this isn’t really about sleeping in at all. It’s about compromise. I needed something, and I had to make it known, even if it took a few tries to make it stick.
Whatever it is, you have to find an area where you each can give and take a little, your compromise. Maybe it’s sleeping in. Maybe you get up with the kids all the time, but then your partner gives you a few hours to yourself to go have coffee, shop, or nap. Maybe the compromise is that he makes dinner, or bathes the kids. No one should feel like they carry all of the burden of caring for young children, and no one should especially have to live with crippling, mind crushing fatigue.
Stand up for yourself in your marriage, and make it clear what it is that you need to get a little sanity. I was dying to sleep in JUST ONCE A WEEK. That was all I wanted! All I wanted was – just one day out of seven – to NOT have the responsibility of getting up and making breakfast fall on my shoulders. I had to start a conversation about it and make this one thing very clear. This isn’t by far the only compromise we have in our relationship, but I do credit a good portion of our happiness (and my now lack of resentment) to this teeny tiny agreement.
What compromises do you have in your marriage?
Zoe wore this dress all day Thursday. When getting ready for bed, she carefully hung it back up in her closet so she could reach for it first thing Friday morning.
“Because I like it! Because iss the most bootiful dwess in the wuld! Because I look bootiful in it!”
Definitely not lacking in self esteem, this one.
She has a confidence at 4 that I pray she still has at 14, 24, 34, and on. I don’t have to tell her she’s awesome. She already knows. Not in a conceited, stuck up kind of way, but in a “Well of course I am. Because I love you!” kind of way.
Her charisma isn’t limited to her physical appearance, but damn, she is a beauty, all long and lean, bouncy curls, and pretty little face. Everyone says she looks like me, but I have a hard time believing I was ever that cute, and I have a feeling she will definitely outrank me in the looks department as she grows.
My mind quickly flashes back to my childhood bedroom, where I stand on the mustard yellow carpet in front of my white, wooden dresser, the one with the red knobs. Out of one of the small top drawers I pull a tiny, blue and white gingham bikini, fingering it’s eyelet trim. It’s a triangle top, the kind that internetters today would claim is scandalizing and sexualizing our little girls. But this was the 80s, when people had better things to do than worry about that stuff, like drive their children around without seat belts and traumatize them with The Dark Crystal.
The bikini was a gift from my aunt. I never wore it. It sat crumpled up in my dresser as years passed, a reminder of the insecurity and self scrutiny I felt, even as a young girl, when let’s face it, I probably was pretty average size.
Zoe spins and twirls in her dress, stops to hop on her scooter and ride in a circle around the living room, then runs out to join her sisters on the trampoline, her favorite dress billowing behind her. She has it right now. And I have to try my hardest to help her to never let it go.
My husband Christian is a pretty fit guy. He runs a little, lifts weights, and has completed three Tough Mudder events.
When we started dating, I had already gained the Freshman 15 (er, 20), and he was thin as a rail. His cheekbones jutted out, his eyes were sunken in. Truth be told, he looked a little sickly. Like, he would go to Wendy’s (EVERY. DAY.), but throw away half his burger and leave his fries practically untouched. This was strange behavior to me, the girl who was raised to devour everything on her plate, whether she was full or not.
Through the years his palette improved and he gained weight, especially as I learned the hard way how NOT to provide for our family food wise (Hamburger Helper anyone?). We both made terrible choices by way of chips, sodas, and the like. Breaking up with bread was one of he hardest things I’ve done, but it’s been beneficial. We have a few one night stands here and there, the bread and I.
He lost weight after I gave birth to our children, causing me to give the good old WTF. But the truth was, he didn’t have time for late night snacks when we were dealing with infants. I stress eat; he doesn’t. It’s totally not fair.
Now in our mid-30s, both of us have hit that point where we know that unless we start making better choices now, our health isn’t going to do us any favors in the future. For me this has meant running and making better food choices through my new best friend, My Fitness Pal. For him, this means working out and obsessing over things. Like watching YouTube videos on various routines, finding just the right pre- and post-workout supplement combo, and carb backloading. And talking about them incessantly.
Oh my God, the carb backloading.
The idea is simple – you wait until you’ve been awake for at least 2 hours before you eat, then you shun all or most carbs and sugars until the evening hours, preferably after you’ve worked out. He sent me articles, videos, websites, all on carb backloading, and how it would help burn fat faster. Words like “glycemic index” and “insulin spike” were tossed around the house willy nilly. The carbs you eat at night spike your insulin, which burns fat overnight. The CBL website claims you (meaning MEN) can eat ice cream, cookies, even strawberry tarts (!) as long as they do it at the proper time.
Also if that’s not really how it works, then it’s Christian’s fault. Or mine. I may have tuned him out after a few seconds because OMG stop talking about the carb backloading.
I tried. I’m willing to do anything with a partner, especially if it will get me “effortless abdominals!” simply by “eating the foods you love!” Unfortunately we are not the best team outside of being married and raising children together. I felt that every bite I took, every carb I ate, he’d be watching me. Like a little carb obsessed Sting.
The carb backloading? Gave me all the ragey feelings.
I can technically do without bread carbs. It’s fine. I’ve given it up before. But when you tell me I can’t have agave nectar in my coffee, or dressing on my salad or fruit with my yogurt….thems fightin words. I was hungry all the time (which means I probably wasn’t eating the right non-carb things to keep my body satisfied in the first place), and Bitch Leigh Ann was in full force.
The constant carb backloading talk didn’t help. Honey, I love you, and I want to support you, but you have got to stop talking about the carb backloading before I backload my foot into your pretty mouth. JK Love you!
After about 3 days of Bitch Leigh Ann, I gave in. I started putting agave nectar back in my coffee and now dance a little happy dance with my mug in the kitchen each morning. I still keep my carbs to a minimum. I gave up sandwiches a long time ago (unless it’s Thundercloud or Jimmy John’s, because I am not a complete animal) and only eat sprouted grain bread if I have toast. We have the occasional pasta. It’s whatever.
My husband looks great. But he has much stronger willpower than I. The thing is, I cannot stick to a plan that I hate. I was completely miserable while doing whatever version of the carb backloading he had me trying, even if it wasn’t 100% according the the plan of the guy who made it up whose videos I didn’t watch (sorry babe, I meant to?). And if someone popped up and told me exactly how to do it? I probably still wouldn’t be interested. Not my thing. You can promise me rock hard abs, a fantastic butt, and a trimmer waist than I have ever seen, but if I’m miserable… well, I don’t really care about that. I’ll stick to My Fitness Pal, who got me through a quick 6 pound loss before a voice started saying “Oooh! You lost 6 pounds! GET YO’SELF SOME CAKE!”
I just need to figure out how to squash THAT guy.
Have you every tried something “extreme” and seen results?
I could make this short and sweet by saying sciatica SUCKS! and that would be sufficient.
Seriously, y’all. The pain. The limping. The wincing. The doctors.
This started about November. Some mild back pain sent me to bed with a heating pad for several nights, but all it did was warm me up from some unusual frigid temps. The pain worsened until one night, in pure desperation, I googled “back pain left side,” and sciatica was the number one hit.
How did I not think of this? I suffered from sciatica pain in pregnancy. My lower back and left leg would ache, and the back of my left knee would be so warm to the touch that the children often huddled around my leg for warmth. True story.
[Clarifying side note: After writing about strange pregnancy ailments for allParenting, I learned that sciatica in pregnancy is often really pelvic girdle pain. Yay learning!]
Anyway, back to my debilitating and horrifying pain.
Here’s how my day goes:
Get up. Kind of.
Hobble to bathroom.
Sit/fall onto toilet. Check email and Facebook, AKA procrastinate having to stand up as long as possible.
Wash face, kicking left leg to side and bending slightly at the waist. To rinse, bend neck just until you are just on the verge of passing out from the pain. Slosh 96% of counter surface with water.
Limp into girls’ room to wake for school. Luckily bending over to wake them with hugs and kisses is well worth the pain.
I could go on and on, but it’s more of the same. There’s no comfortable position. Stand: pain. Sit: pain. Sitting to standing: PAIN. Standing to walking: MEGA PAIN, SOMETIMES TEARS.
A former physical therapist friend recommended that I skip my general practitioner and go straight to an orthopedic doctor. Luckily on the day of my appointment, my ibuprofen had worn off, so my pain faces were totally legit, and he could tell I was truly hurting. Unluckily for him, I was wearing sexy X-ray shorts and hadn’t shaved since long about November.
X-rays were inconclusive, so he ordered an MRI. While waiting for the MRI results, Christian insisted I go see a chiropractor (also heavily recommended by lots o’ friends, including a doctor friend. We all trust doctor friends.)
The chiropractor took one look at me and said, “Well. You are royally f*cked up.” Maybe not in those same words.
She asked to see me every day that week, where we did adjustments followed by therapy. Let me tell you, true intimacy, like your ortho doc seeing your incredibly hairy legs, is a therapist reaching into your pants to place little electrodes on your ass. I consider us to be very close now.
By the end of the week I was feeling good, moving around with minimal pain, and having a great hair day. I was starting to beat this. Or so I thought.
My MRI showed that I have a bulging disc that is compressing my sciatic nerve. Dr. B at Texas Orthopedics explained how the condition occurs. Something having to do with fissures and bubble gum consistency and “you are getting old.” I AM NOT A DOCTOR, PEOPLE. But the main thing I remember is that he said “It will get better,” as in the pain will go away, but the disc won’t go back into place. Possibly related, “You’ll likely be dealing with flare ups for the rest of your life.” He prescribed physical therapy, and if there was still no relief, cortisone shots.
I’ve had cortisone shots in my heel years ago for plantar fasciitis. SUPER FUN. NOT AT ALL PAINFUL. LOOKING FORWARD TO IT.
I know there are many differences of opinion between medical doctors and chiropractors. I talked to each of them about my seeing the other, and for the most part they were supportive. My chiropractor, Dr. M, was honest and up front about her own issues and how she herself has gotten cortisone shots for neck pain. Dr. B (the ortho) admitted that some of his colleagues lump chiropractors in with voodoo witch doctors, but he didn’t see the harm in it, as long as I wasn’t being taken advantage of with procedures that weren’t really going to help me.
And that’s the problem. I don’t know what’s going to help me. I want so badly to be done with this. Being in pain in pretty much all of your waking hours is miserable, to say the least. It affects every single part of my daily life, from the cleanliness of my house to my patience with my children. I literally cannot find a comfortable position unless i am lying in bed. And I miss jumping on the trampoline, dammit. But the thing is, everyone seems to have a different opinion on what the “right ” thing to do is. Dr. B may tell me that my bulging disc will never go away, but someone else may say that’s not true. I just need someone to be straight with me because Y’ALL, THIS SUCKS.
So as of right now, here’s where I am. Per Dr. B’s orders, I now own a copy of Treat Your Own Back (affiliate link), and I’m scheduled to see a physical therapist specializing in McKenzie method on Monday. I’m also seeing my chiropractor 3 times a week for adjustments and therapy. I’m popping ibuprofen like crazy, stretching and foam rolling twice a day, and wearing a sexy back brace when I don’t have to be seen in public. I have good days and bad days, but the thing is, none of the days seem to correlate with anything in particular.
[now a photo of a Birthday Princess Ninja Chihuahua. Or something.]
Zoe had a birthday last weekend. She turned four, and like all little girls between the ages of 0 and 103, she naturally wanted a Disney Frozen-themed party.
Pro-tip: Always say DISNEY before FROZEN, unless you want to get weird looks from people when you say you looked everywhere, but you couldn’t find any Frozen stuff. They’ll give you the side eye and be like “Um, there’s a whole section right over there. You know, ice cream? Pizzas? Pancake-wrapped sausages on a stick? It’s really cold?”
And you’ll be like “DISNEY FROZEN. ANNA, ELSA, ET CETERA.”
Say it with me DISNEY Frozen. DISNEY Frozen. DISNEY Frozen.
Anyway. We found a pack of napkins. That’s it. I wasn’t sure how the rest of the theme was going to go down, but God as my witness, sugar-hyped children were going to wipe their sticky, frosting-covered mouths with Anna’s smiling face.
So we decided to go “Disney Frozen-esque.” Lots of blue and white. Sparkly tulle on the table. Cupcakes decorated with blue and white frosting, adorned with little sugar sprinkles, candy pearls, and blue rock candy. They were, if I may say so myself, THE BOMB.
I love decorating cupcakes. It seriously takes almost no skill. But this time I wanted to take on a new challenge.
The ombre cake was calling me. Ombre is fancy talk for a fade or gradation of colors, usually from light to dark. I have an art degree, therefore I felt suited to take on this challenge. My professors would be so proud.
One thing you should know about me: I’m a closet Pinterest mom. Like, I totally suck at planning parties (SUCK) and my house is rarely appropriate for even the most casual of photographs. But I love making stuff. I am not a incestual pinner; I only pin what I really intend I to go back and refer to. I don’t always get around the the actual making of the actual stuff, but cakes and cupcakes are kinda my thing. I just love being able to fulfill their requests on my own. Like, I did this. You know?
(Not that there’s anything wrong with buying a cake because store bought cakes are DELICIOUS.)
So if you are looking to make an ombre cake, here are some things you should know, from the standpoint of a non-professional and completely unorganized woman who often messes things up. Also, I have almost no process photos, because 1) I really wasn’t planning on blogging it. Ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat; and 2) when I bake, it looks like a tasty, powdered sugary bomb went off in my kitchen. It doesn’t make for appealing photos. I said I USE Pinterest. I didn’t say that I was actually Pinterest worthy.
Anyway, the tips. A realist’s guide to making an ombre cake.
• I made a 3-layer cake with blue, light blue, and white layers. Get this whitest cake mix you can. I used vanilla cake mix, which was not exactly completely white, so it made the blue cake look a wee green. Don’t even think about going for yellow cake mix unless you have a color wheel-related death wish.
• I’d love to tell you how many drops of food coloring I used in each layer, but I can’t take on that kind of responsibility. Just start with 2 drops in one, 1 drop in another, and obviously your white later needs no drops. Adjust accordingly, depending on how deep you want your blues. Don’t go too deep on the middle layer. You may think it’s too light, but it will look great once stacked between the darker blue and the white.
• If you are into planning ahead (I scoff at the thought), get as many pans as you have layers. Even if you can’t cook them all at the same time, you’ll at least be able to pop the new ones in when you take the done ones out.
• Your layers are thinner than the average cake, so tell the cook times on the box to go to hell. I divided one box of mix into 3 pretty thin layers, and they cooked in about 15 minutes or so (the box called for 28ish minutes). Mine looked a little, er, done when I took them out. That’s what frosting is for.
Now for the frosting.
• Unfortunately (for me) frosting a cake is not nearly as simple as frosting cupcakes. Also, do you frost a cake? Ice a cake? No idea. [puts third spoonful of frosting in mouth]
• I make my own buttercream frosting like a boss. Over the years I’ve used about 8 different recipes, and this one here is probably my favorite. It’s the salt that makes it eat-it-with-the-biggest-spoon-you-have YUM. I recommend making 2 batches. You’ll need some to, um, taste.
• Two words: CRUMB COAT. This is a thin layer of frosting that serves as a base for the actual frosting. Think of it as primer for your cake. Frosting cakes (icing cakes? GAH.) is not for the impatient or rushed. Girl, get the crumb coat on there and you can thank me later. Stick it in the fridge so it can dry before you apply the real frosting. What I wish I had known: thin the crumb coat frosting a little with water, to make it easier to spread.
• Now you may notice after stacking your layers that your cake is lopsided. You will come to accept this, because that frosting in between is as good as glue. Don’t try to unstick the layers. No good will come of it. It just creates more work for you.
• I separated the frosting equally into 3 bowls. I started with 2 drops of color in one, 1 drop in the other, and I left the third bowl white. I eventually added another drop to each of the blues.
• Put the cake on a flat surface. Starting at the bottom, I slathered on the darker blue, then the lighter blue in the middle, then the white around the top. Tiny Elmo rubber spatulas come in great use here.
• No, adding more frosting on that side will NOT even out your lopsided creation. The sooner you fail to care, the sooner we can just eat this damn cake.
You’ll notice that my cake is not going to win any beauty contests. The frosting is what I like to call “messy chic.” Like women who spend half an hour trying to appear as if they just rolled out of bed. My Frozen-esque theme is minimal at best. But lucky for me, mediocrity is kinda my thing. I can’t make myself care too much about this stuff, because I have no more damns to give about perfection. I just want my kids to remember that making their cakes is something I love to do. It’s important to me. Just not important enough to freak out over a little lopsidedness.
So. The moral of the story is: Lower your expectations. Eat some cake. Be happy.