Saturday, June 30, 2012

has reality Tv killed cake?

I've been as many of you know who read this blog on a tough and deeply spiritual road since entering this industry. (most of my life really) Unlike most in this field, I never wanted to do cake, yet now I can't get away.   Easily enough I got into cakes to try to please my mother.  That failed obviously because I haven't spoken to her in over a year now.  before all of that, I was an enthusiastic cake guy, who, when approached with the possibility of Tv shows featuring me doing cake, I saw it as an opportunity that would be life changing.  Well...  It was life changing, but is it all good?   it even makes me wonder, has it been good for the industry in general? 

I can't complain to much as I do on occasion get to do some really great stuff.  It could be argued even that you wouldn't even be reading this blog if it not have been for the time I've spent before a camera.  But has Tv created a business opportunity for me to make a living off of cake.  The answer is apparently shocking to many. NO.   As you may have read in a previous blog, there is a rampant disease among cake artist in which they fake it.  Fake it sounds bad and maybe I should just say they ( and I've been guilty of it too) allow people to believe they are more successful than reality proves.  I've rarely been paid enough for a cake to say it was lucrative.  More often than not I barely break even and if I'm truely honest, I could make more per hour flipping burgers.  (not to mention I'd have scheduled hours, days off and benefits, none of which I have now)...  The Up side of what I do is that I do love the people side of it.  I love that in writing this I feel as though I'm chatting with you.  You are in a sense my own personal private shrink.  My sincere hope is that by sharing my own struggle and story with you that you and I both might grow in some way.  I absolutely love to see and meet new people.  I honestly believe that I can feel the energy of those around me and for the most part, the energy with cake people is amazing!  So, as an industry of artist, sharing and learning together, we can't be beat.  But TV has changed the way the world, and many people within the cake community view what it is that we do. 

   As the bonified 3 time winner of Cake off, I'm supposed to be, or maybe atleast I'm supposed to feel like I am a successful champion.  So it can be said for many of the others who, like me have had success on TV shows.  The appearance presented on Tv is of success, and so the pressure to be successful in reality is intensified!   And so, in my opinion anyway, many of "us" (TV personalities) put on a continual show long after the cameras have stopped...   I've been flat out disgusted by some of the B.S. that has been said in public about what we do.  I had one fellow cake off winner tell me proudly and publicly, they regularly get over $1000.00 for car cakes.  I've read articles from another where they claim that they frequently do cakes that cost more than most people's car.  I don't buy it for a second, but the fact is, many of the people who hear it will believe it, and when they quit their day job to persue a glamorous money making life as a cake shop owner, they will be greatly discouraged when they find out that to 90% of the public thinks anything over $100 bucks is Crazy! expensive!...    If success on Tv translated directly to financial gains in business, than I as the supposed champ of a series should be at the top of the price and income brackets, and I wish I was!  I know fist hand that I'm not the only one that expected it to change my business for the better only to be sadly disappointed by the sting of reality ( and I don't mean the TV kind of "reality")
       In the begining Cake TV was about cake and you could actually learn something from watching it.  It wasn't because the producers wanted it to be educational, as I can assure you they're far more interested in it being entertaining than anything else.  Many of the general public and most all cake enthusiast watched and loved the work portrayed on TV.  This gave rise to litterally thousands of new and budding decorators/artist and increased the demand for great cakes.  But as things seem to do on TV, they get repeated, and copied, and spin-off's come from everywhere, until the shows are so diluted and empty of real content that all the producers have is the drama.  The drama in most cases is completely made up and contrived, or at the very least inflated by the powers behind the scenes.  The belief is that you can make up for the lack of valuable content with a quirky or sometimes rude even mean cast member.   After so long and so many shows there are litterally hundreds of "TV Celebrities" now in the cake world.  Add to that the general concensus that being on TV gives you the magical power to get paid more than most people's cars are worth for a single cake, and the idea that being on a show makes you somehow better and more successful and there's trouble a brewin'! 

It's becoming incresingly difficult for established bakeries to get enough for cakes to be profitable. Why?  Well, perhaps in part to the attention garnered by TV for cake and the alure of being on TV, new decorators have popped up everywhere!  Everyone believes that it's a magical land of sugar coated cash, where time and leisure abound.  But with so many new and often extremely underpriced cake people out there, the market is litterally flooded with cake.  In addition to that is the perception by would be clients that cake making is easy.  People have no concept of the cost and time involved, and have even less respect for the talent and skills required to do top notch work.  They see huge magical works of art seemingly produced in a short days work, editied into a drama packed hour. The demand for these cakes is great, but the willingness, or more importantly the lack of understanding of the value of them isn't enough to justify the customer spending what it should take to buy one.   It's a tough situation and one I'm not sure is correctable.
 How do we change the mindset of potential clients and make them understand the value of a cake.  "Yes it's a thousand dollars, and at that price I get to be paid $3.00 an hour to do it for you."  "I get to spend 30 hours creating it, spend hundreds on supplies, drive an hour to your event, where , there isn't a table set up yet, so I get to wait an hour for the friggin staff to find the right table and cloth."    "We won't even go into the fact that I was still working on your cake at 4am, when I should have been at home friday evening watching a movie on the couch with the kids."  No customer will ever consider that when they ask for a cake, as they just can't begin to understand what it means to do what we do.  Add to that the "supermarket" mentality, that for a buck twenty five a serving you can have some 16 year old kid scribble "happy Birthday" on a sheet cake and be satisfied; we're all in trouble.

It may not be all TV's fault though...  Maybe we've all gotten so good at producing the stuff we've seen on tv that it's just not much of a surprise to the client any more?   Could our increase in ability and skills be the reason why the general public is seemingly not impressed enough to shell out enough cash to make it worth our while.   In spite of the chance that it might sound like I'm bragging, I get told all the time when I demo that I make it look really easy.  I frequently do demonstrations where in an hour I make a sculptured cake in the form of something a visitor in the crowd asked for.
I've done this so many times and it's always something different.  But is it a good thing to make it look too easy?  Maybe by doing so I'm reducing the percieved value of the finished product?  Could we be improving ourselves out of work?  I got to wonder...  When I do cakes for clients I always go above and beyond on their cake whether I feel the price justifies it or not.  Maybe that too has hurt the value. 

I'm left with 2 choices these days, and everyday that passes makes the decision that much easier.  Continue to loose money doing cakes for sale, or focus instead on spending my time in the more valuable and definately more enjoyable persuit of sharing.  I've always been clear that inspite of the trouble with cake for myself as a non-profitable business choice, I love the art side of it and even more so I love sharing my talents and experience with others.  I absolutely love to learn and everytime I teach a class I learn something, gain friends and have a great time!  I hope it doesn't sound like I'm bashing the industry of cake.  I'm only giving my own personal view of it and as they say the views and perspectives expressed may not be that of the producers and it's affiliates!    It is a tough industry.  If my saying so and admitting my own troubles within it helps someone else feel a little less like they've failed or just haven't figured it out, then it's very worth it to me.  I am after all the "Black Sheep"  and it's my job to do and say the things that those who demand you "Not look behind the curtain" would never fess up to.  We are all in this together...

peace n love     

Thursday, June 28, 2012

dangling from a cliff.

     It's quite a thing to believe in something...  ancient egyptians believed their god Ra, rode his chariot across the sky on a daily journey lighting the earth below... Not exactly the way we know it to be today but a cool way of looking at something we take forgranted...  in ancient China, say 500bce, Taoist believed that women posessed an endless amount of "Yen" while men had only a finite amount of "Yang" which is the essence of life.  It was believed that men should never give up "yang" without first obtaining plenty of "Yen", this basically meant that Chinese men spent lots of time making sure they had very happy women , uh, on their hands ( wink wink).  Failure to satisfy their women (multiple times) would lead to a loss of Yang and certain death, but I'm pretty sure they make pills for that now.

    We all have beliefs, and we all have a strong tendency to stick with them.  The toughest and most persistent beliefs are the ones we have about our selves.  We all live lives that are touched by others, and in many cases we judge the people around us by our own personal beliefs.  As the "Black Sheep" I've been the subject of frequent judgements, both in my family life and within our industry.  I've witnessed some pretty jaw dropping judgements and many of them were from people that had no right or reason to make them in the first place.  However, having heard them, the logical thing to do is question them.  I've been on a spiritual ride in the past several years,(let's say decades) many of the things I believed about myself, I found weren't as I thought they were.  It's a very hard thing to do to look into yourself and take a real measurement of your own character.  It's so much easier to look to the external and blame the situation around you, the people influencing you or some other force for your actions and feelings, but truth is, the fault is primarily from within.  This isn't to say that outside factors can't shape who you are because they do, but in the end, if your will be strong enough, who you are is very much in your own hands.  It's a concious decision and it can't be made without a real accounting of the facts.  I've always believed in doing the right thing, yet I've found myself in the past to be living an angry, bitter life.  I've always considered myself to be open minded and non-judgemental, yet at times I was happy to blame others for my plight, and refused to even consider my own part in it. No matter how able I seemed to be and how capable I was percieved, always there seemed to be self doubt.  It's an awakening of sorts to realize the power you have over your state of mind.
    The other day I watched a show on Travel channel, where 3 American base jumpers traveled to China to jump into a huge sinkhole/cave.  The most interesting part was the shear fear on the face of the guy who seemed throughout the show to be the bravest of the group.  As he dangled from a wire high above the jagged rocks below, shaking with fear, I wondered if he could make the jump.
shortly after, he threw his legs up over the wire, unhitched the safety clasp holding him securely to the cable, and he was off.  The camera mounted on his wrist, which previously showed the look of doubt and fear, now only showed joy. Tears filled my eyes as my daughters and I watched on as he landed safely.  All I could think about was all the times in my own life that I had been affraid, and all the times to come in my own and my young girls lives when we would face fear.  I realized that though I often believe myself strong and even fearless, I too often shy from the things I'm fearful of.  The decisions and actions that should be taken, but aren't because an easier option was available.  The conflicts and even the people I avoid because it's easier to turn away.  The joy of a life lived knowing I conquered my fears, and faced them head on with courage lessened because I took the safe route and let fear determine the direction.  I was proud to hear a simple "wow" come from my oldest daughter, as the jumper described his definition of courage and I hoped it would go to heart.  "I have all the same emotions anyone does standing on the edge of a cliff or dangling from a wire high above what could be my death...  I want to run away, I want to turn back...  The difference is I choose to jump."   maybe by being the most affraid he had proved to be the bravest?

     And so, I find myself daily standing on the edge of my own version of some remote cliff, or dangling from a thin wire stretched above an incredible void.  I want to turn back.  I want to run away and do the thing that is easiest.  I only hope I have it in me to make the leap.   I am willing to believe I do.  Courage is the resistence to fear, not the lack of...
Will you jump with me?

Peace N Love   

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

sometimes it's hard to be the blacksheep

   I believe strongly that your outlook on life depends very largely on how you want to see it, or even how open you are to REALLY seeing it. Often the hardest thing to do is to really look closely at yourself and find an un noticed truth.  Sometimes I get stuck in a rut and start to get caught up in self pity, and I don't like it.  ( it could be so much worse).  I really can't complain too much about the events of my life.  I'm healthy, I have beautiful kids and the love of many really great friends, but always on my mind is the troubles within my business, my finances and more so my family.   

     I've been proud to be the black sheep of the cake industry...  No formal training except what I picked up from my mother, no real regard for formality or conventional ideas of "how this or that is done", and I've always tried to be myself in spite of the events that happen around me, but I'm not only the Black Sheep of cake, I had plenty of practice long before that.

    For as long as I can remember I've felt like my families Lil Black Sheep and I can remember from a very early age feeling as though I just didn't quite measure up.  I was the only boy in a house with 2 older sisters. As they shared the same interest and such my sisters always seemed to bond with my mother better than I did, and that never sat well with me as I was helpless to solve the problem.  I tried everything I could and was dieing to feel of value to my mother, but it seemed I always came up short. I got older, and the situation varied, but always there was the problem that she and I never really saw eye to eye, and I really can't say why that was, but no matter how old I got, it seemed I still needed the validation of her approval, and it was never there when I needed it.  So, as she was getting older and arthritis taking it's toll, I got involved with her trying to help her with her cake business.  I can't even tell you why it ended up being me, as my sisters always had more interest in cake than I and had worked previously in a bakery with her, but as I recall my sisters were to busy with their own families, and such, so I felt like it was a great opportunity to finally seize my chance to satisfy her and earn what I felt was deserved...  respect.

I had a full time job and was married at the time and my oldest daughter was very young, but when my mother needed me, I came up and worked late into the night, often staying overnight to deliver the next day.  I liked doing cakes and the extra money was great at the time, and for a short time she seemed genuinely happy to have my help.  We worked together for years, with none of her clients even knowing I was responsible for sometimes all of the work done on their cake.  Frequently we would work on the same cake, finishing individual tiers and putting them together on site.  Even though it stung a bit to have people compliment a cake I had done and receive none of the credit myself, I figured it was worth it as she seemed at least at the time to be to a small degree happy. 

    Much time has passed since those days and so much has happened.  the situation between my mother and I degraded so badly that she and I haven't talked in several years.  She and my dad divorced and my family feels it right to place the blame on me, and I've never understood that.  It would seem that all of my intentions of making my mother proud of me by doing well in an industry I had previously no interest in, failed miserably and instead she began to despise me for it.    I've been blamed for trying to steal her thunder, and even for stealing her bakery it's self...  I've heard stories that I kicked her out on the street and left her with nothing, and that I planned to do so in some maniacal scheme, and all of it hurts me to the core.   Why are people so flippin' fast to believe the worst?  You got to wonder...

     It's been pretty quiet since my mother moved back to Kansas City, every now and then I'll get a nasty email from one of her long time friends cursing me for what they THINK I've done, but for the most part I've focused on my family, my self, and trying to do something good all while trying to make a business out of a loosing industry. (OK, don't get me wrong, I love the art possible in cake but as a career choice, It's a bitch)  sometimes it's so quiet that I almost forget the dark secrets that lay below the relative peace of my daily life, but sometimes things happen that stir the waters.

     My Dad, came out to the shop today with a letter in hand and a dazed and almost tearful look on his face and handed me a Fathers day card with a message written inside.  ( this is one of the few communications he's received in the past couple years from my family)  At first it seemed as though they were explaining why he was to blame for them not talking to him, but then they made it clear.  It wasn't my Dad, it was "the brother" ,it was me.  The thing that struck me at first was that they couldn't even bring themselves to write my name, as though it was a cursed word, and one that mustn't be uttered for fear of who knows what?   The letter went on to describe that in an attempt to raise her own boys into men, she couldn't let them be around someone who's goal was to bring those around them down.  I was dumb founded.  First off I couldn't imagine how it is that you can do anything when you haven't had a word with them in what is sadly years, but mostly because much of my own personal peace comes from the idea that my life is focused on good.  I whole heatedly believe in doing the good things, because they're good!  The most rewarding thing in my life is feeling like my actions, even my silly blogs like this one, might help someone.  That by sharing myself and my struggle with others that it will make them ( and me!) feel less alone, and even better to inspire and be inspired! .When I look back at my life I want to truly believe that it was lived for some valuable purpose. so how could this be?

     I've come to the conclusion that some people need a focus to point their blame at.  That sometimes in life when things go to the contrary of what was planned people need to be able to point to the cause, even if the cause isn't the truthful one; for my family, I am that person.  The only thing left to do is to decide whether to fight against it or simply accept it, and I've become comfortable with the latter.  I know who and what I am, and it does not in any way equal what they'd like for it to, but at the same time, I feel my purpose is to simply accept what ever they need to place upon me for them to be happy and content.  I hate it and it sure as hell isn't fair, but for my own family, this is what they've chosen for me and I can live with that.     

     So what now?  Well, being the black sheep of my family and my life long quest to please my mother isn't all bad.  I learned to sew, cook and much more...  I learned to make cakes and found out that my greatest love and joy comes from sharing my experiences in life with others through cake.  I have found that I have a deep inner strength that may never have materialized had it not been so.   I've learned that I can work harder and longer and for less than most people would bother, all in the belief that someday, some time, maybe never, but hopefully so, it will all be worth it ( and it already is!)   Most importantly I've found out that being myself, in spite of what happens around me is always the best action.  Just recently Carey and I were talking about time machines (don't ask why) and she asked me if I could go back and change anything, would I?   my answer...  NO.  Do I have regrets?  Absolutely, but sometimes the bad things we go through open our heart for the things that come later.  It's when we let those negative things close the door that we are lost, and for now my door is open, my heart is filled only with the desire to live and share.   And so life goes on...

I know this is supposed to be a cake blog, but life is cake and cake is life.  We share our selves and our lives through cake(food)...  We celebrate stages of life with cake and as I share and celebrate my life with you because of cake, it is only fair that we get to know each other, and my own history, struggle, and story, no matter the hurt or joy is a valuable part of that cake!  Life would be a much sweeter if we shared it a bit.

Peace N Love

Monday, June 18, 2012

when reality isn't real enough

Father's day weekend...  and what a weekend it was too. 

Last week I had an order for a 40th surprise birthday party for a girl who is fascinated by the whole "movie star lifestyle"...  Her husband made her think he struck out for her 40th and all the while she was mad at him, he was planning what had to be the best surprise party ever!

I did a good sized cake (made a little on this one even!) and I'm pretty pleased with it. This is what happens when a client says "hollywood.... GO!")

       I hate to admit it, but I had (very falsly) built up an image of the client as an over the top rich guy with more money than sense, with a need to show off.  When Carey and I arrived at the party site ( their house) we were surprised to see that much of the neighborhood had been closed off and large white tents were being put up. There were search lights on the lawn and a large red carpet leading under the tents and to the front door of the birthday girls home, and men frantically working to get the the bars, photo booths, and DJ area set up in the short time allowed. It was quite a sight, and obvious that this was not your average party, and I've been to tons of them to know!
     As We set up the cake in the house's beautiful kitchen, a very nice guy in athletic shorts and a baseball jersey came in welcomed us and thanked us for the work we had done.  It was our client, and he was very down to earth with a jersey that matched his sons team uniform...  He told us to help ourselves with anything we needed and couldn't stop thanking us for the cake.  My invisioned image of this guy was very wrong, and he continued to show it all through the evening.  It turns out he's a very hard working small business owner, who just flat out really loves his wife. (even if every guy at the party did have to hate him a little , just for setting the bar so impossibly high with his wife's party!)  In short, the party was awesome, the guest all good people and the host was tops.  It was an honor to be at the party of such good people.

        After finishing out my fathers day on my sailboat, with the kids, I get back to the shop and just this morning one of the production companies that I chat with sends me an email ( and I realize that by writing this I may be burning a few bridges, but so be it...)  Now, over the last few years this production company has created a bunch of the "drama TV" you see on various networks, and I've been talking to them about doing something "good and up-lifting".  Today I got this as a reply.  "Love your ideas and direction, but it isn't what the market calls for" ... " today's TV viewer wants more real life drama, and expects something exciting and unusual".     The email goes on to explain that they're interested in producing several other shows, and looking to cast them, and wondered if I'd be interested in what is basically cookie cutter reality TV. ( again sorry...  I just heard a bridge ignite)

        We worked for a solid week on the event and we were inspired by what we saw on Saturday.  The party was great but the people there we even better, topped off by the love this guy had to have to do what was done for his unsuspecting wife.  The ass chewing he took all week for "not having" a party for her, and the shear number of friends that showed up in black tie, none of whom tipped her off.  That's LOVE.  That's the type of thing I'd watch over and over.  And as we stood in the client's packed home, sweating from the combined heat of all the people inside, teary eyed as he proclaimed his love and admiration for his wife, I couldn't help but feel lucky and as if I had been improved by the spectacle.  I felt so inspired that I wanted to share that type of love for life with other people and it donned on me to email the very production company that beat me to the punch, and tell them this is what "REAL LIFE" looks and feels like.  It's not about the big party, or the homecoming of thousands of war hardened veterans or what ever other event in our travels on earth...    It's about the love of each person in the room.  The life they share with each other and with me.  I feel this everyday and try to think about it as often as possible, yet it's lost on those who decide what you get to see on TV ( and supported by the fact that people watch it)

According to "reality TV" experts, real life is multi-millionaires doing cakes while fighting with family.  It's people wrestling gators, and tiny people having too many kids.   Over the top brides and spoiled brats with mother's who try to live through their children.  Where are the good people?  Where are the good causes?  Why can't we produce something that makes the viewer stop what they're doing and just let someone know how much they love 'em?  Why not spend our production talents for something that makes people feel closer to each other?  This world is so small and if we listen to the people in charge full of troubles and bad stuff.  I believe ( and I think if you stop and look long enough, you may too) that the world is filled with good people, some of them work hard everyday, with nothing else in mind but to show the people they love most that they care, love and are inspired by them...

Why in the world can't the executives at these super networks see that?  maybe we should start a show where every week we take the network execs' and ask them to do silly stunts, eat aweful things then ask them to produce an uplifting emotion in a viewer....  the ones that fail get voted off? 

I don't think I'd be watching, but it could be interesting?  so...  for now, I'm moving to the swamp, hiring some little people, having a bunch of kids and making cakes! Hollywood here I come!

Peace N Love


Monday, June 4, 2012

Fake it?--- or face it? I say embrace it

Hey All!  my last Blog was a real surprise for me and over 2000 people have viewed it in 24 hours.  I've recieved calls, emails and fb messages about it and I  wanted to talk some more about it as I've thought a lot about it, and heard many words of wisdom. ( we could do this forever!)   Like the title says there's so much mis-information out there about the real blood n guts of doing cake as a money making business.  So many people ( and you know who you are) do fake it.  "I'm working on 10 tv shows, writing 15 books and doing cakes that cost more than your car every week"   Yeah right!    I won't deny that I do get lucky and get to do some fun stuff.  But if it wasn't fun, it wouldn't be at all worth it as too often I end up in the red afterwards!  Yes, I get to travel and meet great people, but with 3 kids at home (who I honestly prefer their company most days) bills and everything else, how can I justify spending money my family needs, to do what is essentially a selfish thing.  Doing cake and loosing money doing so because it's fun ( and I seldom find it fun anymore) is just all around bad business.  Believing that because you love doing it and enjoy the rewards of creating something artistically valuable doesn't mean that customers will see the same value you know is there!  We live in a world that is very much dominated by the lowest dollar mentality.  There is always someone willing to do it a a little worse for a lot less, and when a client doesn't understand the difference, we all loose!  You simply cannot explain to a customer what it is they will be getting.  Not in terms of a finished product or in terms of value (value as in what it takes to make in time and money)  I love that the 2 most comon statements I get from customers are 1: "Wow that much, just for cake!"  when a price is given and 2: better yet still, and an indicator of the communication breakdown between client and decorator is " wow...  I had no idea it was going to look like that!"  after a cake is delivered.  Not meaning to sound coy or arrogant but you would think that after looking at my work, clients would have a pretty high expectation, yet people are always amazed at what I deliver. (well, usually) I would expect that they'd look at my past work and think, "I bet my cake will be awesome",( which you'd hope they'd be willing to pay for) but too often all that's on their mind is the cost.    The problem is, that your clients simply can't be expected to understand what you intend to do for them.  They can't be expected to understand the work involved or forsee the finished product.  Nor can they understand what you'll often have to go through to finish the task for them.  Would you ask your auto mechanic to stay up all night changing the spark plugs on your honda?  If it's 5:00 on friday and he strips the threads on one of the cylinders, do you figure he's going to stay around all night, most of saturday trying to get your car back to you.  No.  Not unless he's got cake decorator blood coming out of his busted nuckles!   The very nature of our industry means we far too often have to put family, life and freedom aside to do what we wouldn't expect from just about any other professional.

I've got a shop with very low overhead.  I have essentially no real rent, and all my other cost are low. I frequently have people aske me how to go from a home bakery(hobby) to a actual bonified place of business.  They see it as a great and magical world of freedom where clients will beat down the door and be willing to pay for the work we pour our heart and souls into.  They see the "famous decorators from TV making it look so great and awesome (fake it til they make it) They figure that with more of the same hard work and determination they've already gotten accustomed to at home, that they'll soon be doing what they love.  I've talked to so many friends that own shops, and I really can't think of one that will say it's a worthwhile investment.

Now I realize there seems to be a really negative and almost spiteful tone to my latest blogs, and I don't mean for it to be so, it's just that if I am to be truthful about my experiences and what I've learned in the past few years, it's not all pretty.  I have recieved so much feedback from really good hard working people that truely felt they were alone in feeling the same way I do.   Men and women who believe in something that's good, yet find little reward. People that believed as I did that they were doing something wrong!  It even donned on me that I too was guilty of faking it a bit too.  I've never claimed to make a fortune or to do uber expensive cakes, but I've been afraid to admit to myself as well as my peers that it's been a constant struggle.  Sometimes it's feast or famine, other times it's just famine...  So you wonder, why keep going?

I'd be lieing if I said I haven't decided to quit a bunch of times.   when I'm falling asleep behind the wheel of the delivery van on saturday evening and I haven't been to bed since thursday night, it's hard to keep your resolve...  As I mentioned in my previous blog, I've done so many things in my life.  Most payed the bills and some payed pretty well.  I ran a hotrod shop where I had to deal with bitchy customers, and deadlines, but I could close the door and go home and the customer would have to wait til I opened again.  I don't like doing cakes for a living...  It's litterally the toughest job I've ever had and finacially it has bled me dry.  The worst part is loosing money while working harder than ever, and feeling like I'm failing my children.  Not only do I work 24/7, but when I get away, I'm stressed out and really only thinking about what I need to do at the shop instead of focusing on what really matters ( my kids/life/love) 

I'd be lieing too if I said there wasn't a huge up side for me as well.  The fact that over 2000 people read my last blog in a day, is a incredible honor for me.  To have someone tell me my work, or my words inspired them or lifted their spirits, made them feel less alone or even helped them blow off some of their own steam...  I don't take that lightly and again I feel very very lucky.  It wasn't until I found my place in the cake world (what ever that is) that I learned to love people.  I had always been interested in people, but frequently I had a pretty negative feeling towards most of them, and never really had cause to get to know to many of them.  But cake changed so much of that for me.  I realized that I really genuinely LOVE people.  I absolutely live to look into the eyes of someone I've never met before.  It makes my world feel much warmer and I'm much more at home when I can make someone smile, laugh or even just get to say hello.  To stand before a group of people that wants to watch me do what it is that I do with cake is the greatest high.  To feel like I've shared something of myself with them, and they've done so with me...  I just can't explain the feeling, it's beyond words.  I changed more in the past few years than I ever dreamed of.  so essentially what I'm saying is thank you...  you the reader...  you are the reason I will continue to press on.  Sitting here trying to figure out what to do to survive makes you feel very alone, having so many of you to share it with makes it tolerable!  I'll be doing what I must and making some serious changes around here but I plan to stick with it as best I can.  I'll be changing the way I do business, in an attempt to keep my sanity, and I'll probably be writing more of these blogs and focusing on what (and who) I really love.  I plan to share more, and try to get out more. Maybe by doing so I'll find some of the answers I've been looking for. 

Please understand I'm not trying to discourage anyone from following their dreams, and trying to do what they want to do.  I'm a hopless romantic and believe that doing something good, really truely good will eventually pay off.  I'm still here, still kicking and screaming and determined to do as much as I can and see as much as I can and hopefully with your help add some degree of value to the world!  I feel like I'm very close to living my dreams and ever so often I get to and I hope you do the same!

I have to thank my frind Ruth Rickey for the final words of this blog, they ring very true for me, and I suspect for many of you who will read this:

"it's hard to wait around for something you know might never come;  but it's even harder to give up when you know it's everything you want"

Peace N Love!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

"Drama.... give us drama..."

Ok, so as many of you may have heard there are a two or three new TV shows out there that are looking for new people/ contestants.  I have a few words of advice! ( for what it's worth)

I know first hand just how much Tv can do for you, but I also know what it can do to you. 

TV can be a great thing.  I've been watching it while I clean up. (I'm a sucker for Science Channel, Morgan Freeman's "Through the Wormhole" marathon!)  I also owe it, or rather my work on it for much of my success these days.  I don't for a minute believe that because I was on TV I'm bigger and better than anyone, nor do I believe that without my talent and hard work would it have been of value to me at all, but there is no denying it...  Tv has been pretty good to me.  I like to believe that my skills and abilities  in addition to my Tv work are what land me gigs where I get to travel and share my love of being with people, and do demos and classes.  I really do love to meet people and get to share even a little bit of our time on Earth together.  I feel lucky everytime someone signs up for my classes or attends a demo, and the best of all being our work on KC cakefest, where over 8000 people attended an event that we put together!   Would I have been able to do this without TV?  I don't know... probably not.  So If this is the case why would I have any feeling against Tv at all?

    It's a tricky subject...  To many who would like to be on TV, the idea of scoring a role on a show is the Holy Grail.  They believe that because they do great work that being on a show will make it for them.  They believe that once you're on a show something magical happens and life becomes somehow better.  But its more complicated than that. 

    Many of the producers of TV shows these days are not interested in your skills and abilities as a cake artist, but rather your abilities to entertain.  This ability to entertain doesn't necessarily come from your ability to make cakes well and quickly, but from other possible sources.  I know this first hand as I have shown up on set and had it explained to me that they plan villains, hero's and even loosers and winners on a show.  That's not to say that the shows are totally rigged because they arent.  But it does mean that if the producers think it would be good TV to push something to happen, they will try like hell to do it!   During one of my shows I was told a certain person would be the episodes villain.  I was surprised ( and nieve), but it quickly became very clear that the deck was stacked against them.  The producers set up a situation well in advance to create the outcome they wanted.  We as the cast of that show played it right into their hands, and sadly fell pray to their work, and I've regretted it every day since.

     It would seem the answer to be simple.  Just don't give them what they want...  But in reality TV there are at any given time dozens of cameras rolling shooting even when you feel you're not being watched.  It's very easy to catch something they can use, even if they do it out of context.  So, if honesty matters to you, be very mindful if cast.  Even when your guard is down, and things seem safe.  don't believe it is.

     Another tip, and one I learned the hard way is don't think you have to give them what they want.  Yes it will piss them off, but weigh the options...  A pissed of story producer or the next several years of your life regretting what you said about someone, or yourself on international TV.  They will push you to say things you're not really feeling, or convince you that there is hope of bigger better things in order to subdue you, but the best policy is "to thine own self be true"

Finally, be prepared and don't try to do too much!  Now, I've never done a run through of any of the cakes we did on TV.  But I did design them so that there was one major component, then several important ones, but not all of them were 100% critical.  below that is the final detail stuff.  for example the sandcastle cake.  Obviously I had to have the sandcastle done. I made it as simple as possible, like a model kit.  Simple pieces built, then stacked then finished, as easily as possible, yet it was the key piece.  Second to that was the cool details like the umbrella, surf board and shark.  That's really just 4 things that had to be done.  we could have left out any one of them and still looked great.  Then finally the details.  These were designed so that we could have worked for days.  the more you get done, the better, if not, no big deal.  The idea is to plan for failure, but by doing so avoid it.  Get a few things done and we could atleast have a finished piece, get a few more, great piece, a few more still and awesome!  on that episode we were essentially done early, though we continued to add details til the end.

And to close, if you're still looking to try out for one of these shows( I have links for a few)  you'll need a video.  My advice would be not to make a how to video of yourself doing great work, but one thats fun and entertaining first, even if you don't touch cake at all.  if you're silly, act silly...  If you're goofy, be a goof.  if you're hardcore and serious. well... try to be hardcore and serious!  think of a fun way to mix things up and make the casting people laugh.  Tell a story about something you care about, have fun!

Remember TV is temporary.  You can't expect to change your life because you did a show.  It won't define you and it won't last forever.

I know a ton of "TV cake people"  many of them tell me the same thing.  It didn't really change things much.  I personally run into a lot of problems where potential clients see something on TV and want it.  This should be great except that their budget is at walmart level and their taste is at price is not an object level.  It's a funny thing... You'd expect Tv to increase the cost of your cakes and make people willing to pay for them, but in many cases I have people that shy away from me because they assume they can't afford me ( you know cuz I'm busy making millions!)  It actually can give people the idea that you're above their budget.  ( and I rarely am!) 

Have a look at some of the trends in Tv too and you may want to reconsider.  Next Great Baker season 3 is casting still and they claim it will be  "the competition will be fiercer, the weekly challenges more cutthroat and the judging no-holds-barred".  that's straight from the TLC website! 

so go on TV and be insulted by an over the top guy who's lost sight of what it takes to do what we do.  be a part of the "cutthroat"  and stab your friends in the back.  If you win you may even get the prize and be required to limit yourself to working with buddy any time they see fit.  Lucky you!
Most of the decorators I know, although underpaid in comparisson, are far more talented. 

Good Luck and be true to you!

peace n love

Fake it til you make it

I've been trying to write a blog about cake, but I can hardly stomach the idea of it today.  I don't know if it holds true for everyone who does cake, but for myself and from the people I know, cake is a very bad career choice.  I am not writing this blog to try to discourage anyone from the industry, but only trying to give an honest open account of my experiences. ( MY EXPERIENCES)  I get asked all the time by people and often from parents with interested children about how to "get into cake".  and there is no correct answer for that as there are as varied an amount of ways as there are people in the field!   There is a perception that since I've done some TV and I do get to do some cool cakes and travel, that it translates into cash in pocket and, well...  It's just not that way.

         We've all heard of starving artist.  Common is the idea that artist struggle to persue their craft in the light of debt, health and time constraints.  For many years now I have tried to put together a business that is rewarding both from a financial and personal standpoint.  I'm begining to think it's just not possible!

      It is possible (though difficult!) to run a bakery in which you make money.  It's very hard to run a bakery in which you make money and yet have time to enjoy life as well.  The problem is as we all know the industry is very deadline driven.  Very few clients would be ok with the fact that you didn't do their cake because it was five o'clock on friday and you wanted to go hang out with the kids ( like normal people do)...  Instead, in an attempt to get enough work to pay the bills, I fill up my calendar (when I can) which in turn means my Thursday, Friday and Saturdays are extremely busy.  The rest of my week is usually spent cleaning, planning, answering emails and basically trying to get more work. The deadlines and time constraints involved with working in a perishable medium like cake means we don't really have much control over when we get to work, unless we don't mind serving old cake of course. 

    This last friday was the first time I can remember being done with cake while the sun was still up.  I spent some time with my son flying model airplanes and it really felt weird.  I had to check and double check to be sure I hadn't forgotten something.    The free time was great but comes at a cost; I spent more money last week than I earned.    I was still in the bakery everyday from morning til night, but no money was made...  this is a problem.

     There is a ton of "fake it til you make it" in our industry.  So many of us are in the same boat, yet many feel a need to inflate ( or invent completely) their success and I think it builds up a false idea of what's possible, and what's really the norm.  This industry is very tough!  It demands a ton of skill, knowledge and even more time.  I've worked in many jobs from CPR instructor to auto mechanic , race car driver to roofing, and I can tell you all of them are tough, but none of them are as all consuming as cake can be and most of them pay far better too! ( btw: that's another place many people inflate their success... price. it's never enough)   As I mentioned before there's always the problem of rock hard deadlines, but it's also true that to most people, anything over a hundred bucks, is a lot for a cake!  We all know how much goes into our cake, and how much time we spend planning, creating not to mention stressing out about them.  In addition to the time is the actual cost.  Our cost aren't just the materials, but the time and fuel to go get them, the utilities required to bake them and the tools needed to finish the job.  Add to that time and money spent training and learning as well as time for emailing, answering the phone and having consults, the cost add up very quickly!    I don't mind admitting that last week I brought in only about $500.00 total.  I worked easily 60 hours spent about $80.00 on gas and another $30-$50 in food while delivering and getting supplies.  I spent $130.00 on fondant, and another $100 on other supplies.  This leaves a profit of  $140.00.  That means my per hour labor cost is about $2.30...  Yet I had to try and explain to customers why their Firemans helmet Grooms Cake was $250.00...  I had to worry about problems and failures with the cakes during delivery, and as we all know, we have to worry about whether the customer will be satisfied.  We all worry about that!  Some of the cakes I've been proudest of and often gave the client the greatest deal on are the ones that get the complaints.   In my case it's often that they don't think it's big enough, or even worse when they complain about silly petty things!  I once did a last minute cake for a client who's original baker cancelled a 4 foot long cruise ship cake 3 days before the party ( she had booked it a year before)  I stayed up all night doing it, and I was tickled to death with it.  I found out days later that she wanted money back because she felt the color I had airbrushed the water around the ship clashed with the blue of her party.  Really??  ( she even wanted me to pay for a flourist she hired to cover the water with flower petals!)

This is one of those cases where I feel like I need to offer the answer to some of these problems, but I honestly just don't know.  I try every week to find more time in each day.  I struggle to do what I'd like to do and balance that with what I can do, and very often I end up only doing what I must.

All I can say is you must find a way to make it worth while and in my case I have the truely great people I have met because of cake and the ones yet to come.  I love the friends I have now and I don't mean that in a general sense.  I LOVE them as they have given me strength and courage to continue to press on in spite of the difficulties associated with our industry.  If it weren't for them (you) I'd be working on something , well,  something else?

next blog...  How I make millions doing party cakes that cost more than your car! ( oh wait, that was a dream I had once)

Peace N Love

(update 8-2-2012)

This blog really struck a nerve and I'm actually proud of that!  Truth is I really do feel like so many people blur the line between good marketing and flat out mis-reputation!  It's one thing to want to appear as a valuable and effective business, but when it comes to our piers, the denial of the truth and the flat out fabrication and act performed by some folks really worries me.  We are all part of a very small industry.  I believe that what's good for one is usually good for us all and to deny the problematic issues in our industry builds a false image of the succes possible for people considering it as a career.  I love cake people, but as an industry there are many people painting an unreal image of it.  I admit that even I myself was guilty.  In part because I felt my own actual success depended upon how people percieved my success, but perhaps mostly because I didn't want people to know that I can barely survive on the work I invest so much time in.  I hate fear more than any other emotion and admitting that I have great (often impossible) difficulty making it within this industry was a real accomplishment for me.  I really hope with all my heart that my story will shed some truth upon the industry and even more so I hope that it atleast helps those struggling and looking for the cure to feel like they are not alone!  You are not alone!  and we're in this boat together!

peace N love !