Saturday, March 23, 2013

The night I didn't die

A few months ago, I dreamt I died…  It was an incredibly powerful dream, completely realistic, yet so similar to a movie plot, I should have realized it was a dream.  It was so powerful that it has taken me this long to even write about it, or even to really speak about it much as it brings tears to my eyes…  I still don’t feel comfortable describing all of it and everything that happened within, but I think it’s time I shared it, in hopes that my struggle might help someone else. (Or at the least get it off my chest!)

The dream was just like the plot of many movies, one of my favorites being “Always”…  I’m not sure how it even started, but I met a new friend named Mabel, and she tried for some time to convince me that I was really dead.  We went to my son’s school, where he was sitting in class drawing trucks and cars.  I watched as he drew, unaware of my presence.  Finally his teacher asked him what he was drawing and he told him with a smile, it was “Hotrods my Daddy made”.  The paper held several crayon pictures of cars done in his own abstract style with a short stick figure standing with them; it was me... 

As the dream progressed Mabel took me to visit many others, each was carrying on in their own life without me.  It was hard to see but still never really soaked in until I sat down on a bench to further dispute Mabel’s claims.  Taped to a street lamp next to the bench was a flyer for KC Cakefest.  It looked great and told of all the talented people who were a part of the event, of the great charity, fun events and finally at the very bottom in small black font, “in memory of Mike Elder”…   I honestly can say that at that point it was 100% real for me, it didn’t seem like a dream.  So much goes through your head when you think of that moment.  I don’t think about death much, as I prefer to focus on life and on today, but having her sit with me as we discussed life without me, changed me.

  The dream ended when I visited Carey, who had spent the day working on Cakefest with my oldest daughter Tabby.  She was sitting alone in bed watching “Top Gear”, one of my favorite shows.  She had her laptop out and glasses on as she worked on whatever need be done.    Occasionally she’d look up over her glasses as one of the Top Gear guys would say something ridiculous, smile, let out a gentle giggle and go back to work.    The unifying theme throughout, as I visited all of the people I loved was that they all smiled.  They all laughed and they all found at least a degree of peace and happiness, and having seen it first-hand I realized that is all I could ever hope for.  It’s all I ever wanted and if I were to go today, I could feel fulfilled knowing that they had a lifetime of happiness in store for them and knew how much I loved them. 

In the time that has passed since that night seldom has a moment passed that I haven’t had that dream at least on one of the small screens in my head …  I have lived a very interesting life filled with all sorts of trials and also great triumphs.  In the recent days I’ve come to realize that the dream served a greater purpose then just to strengthen my need to show my love to those around me, it also served as a message that I need to let go of the pain and the regret associated with so much of my life and past. 

I’m not a religious man, and I’m sure right now some are reading this and thinking that “God” had a part in this.  Maybe so, but whatever the reason I feel I’ve learned much from it and that’s why I share it today.  I can only speak for myself but it seems to me that so much of life is spent focused on things that don’t really matter.  I’ve done things and believed in things that if I had ever stopped to question why, I would never have done.  The thing I have become best (or worst) at is accepting the blame and guilt others seem so happy to heap upon me, as well as blaming myself for things I really shouldn’t.   This dream was a wake-up call, a coming to terms of sorts.  The message being that I needed to leave my old life behind, begin to shed the guilt and blame and even the vanity of my past and look towards a better tomorrow and happier days. 

So much time and effort has been expended in my life doing what I thought was the right thing.  Many times it wasn’t right at all and I knew it was so.  But because it’s often easier to go along with whatever comes along, I went with the flow, convinced I was doing the things that were best, even though deep down I knew better.  I believed at the time that I had no choice, that I had to make do with what came along and with a lifestyle I know now that I chose, not a life that had been forced upon me.  There is always a choice, and I chose badly in many cases.

 For many days I believed I dreamt about my death and a future for those I love void of my presence. I realize that it wasn’t about my physical death at all…  It was about a life I have come to expect, a future that holds great happiness and love, if only I have the strength to move on, let go of my past which includes not just past feelings, but also past relationships and even people and embrace the changes that must come with it.   The dream was about my life. about moving on.

I know that once again I have failed to produce a cake related blog, but some things are worth the side note if you will!  It’s a fact even that cake is one of those things I took way to seriously, and my participation in it became more a competition for me as a business.  I looked to each cake as a way to prove myself to the world and to prove my own personal value that had all my life been called into question.  I once wrote a blog about “Faking it til you make it” and it seems I was doing the very thing I was protesting, just in a different aspect of my life.  All of this seems so petty now, and my only wish is to use cake as a way to spend time with great friends, good people and the ones I love.  I know many people who seem to have this firmly in their grasp, yet far more, seem far more interested in their appearance, then their reality… Maybe my friend Mabel can do something about that? LOL.

So…  I always try to end on a humorous note, and this blog is a bit more challenging.  I really do intend to write about cake someday, I can’t say I’m horribly interested in a “how-to” blog about techniques or new products, but I am very interested in the people and the emotions that go along with it.  Just as that night and that simple dream helped me see life in a different light, I see my role in the cake community differently now too.   We’ve launched a new project to share the stories of triumph and good people around the nation and world.  I’m excited to share what we come up with and very happy to be focused even more so on such a positive movement. 

It’s getting late now, I sit here typing with a little boy asleep on my shoulder and two girls snoozing on the floor at my feet.  Sweet dreams.  I’m off to bed myself, to sleep, to dream.  Wishing you

Peace N Love


Monday, January 21, 2013

A world gone mad....All we need is love

I've been studying some of my grandparents old photos and memorabilia I found recently.  Among them are a stack of letters sent to my Grandfather (my facebook profile pic).  The letters go into detail about my Grandmothers everyday life at which time my father was a little younger than the age of my own son.  The content of the letters are pretty general, as my grandmother mostly tries to share her day to day occurrences with her distant husband, whom she very clearly loved very deeply.  I smile and struggle to choke back the tears as she describes how; last night a mouse was spotted in the kitchen after putting Larry (my dad) to bed. Investigating the intruder she was startled when upon opening the cupboard door it scurried out.  Reacting instinctively she swatted at it with a nearby mop, finally smacking it and leaving it stunned.  She describes that she didn't have the heart to hit it again, so it ran into my dad's room and under his book case.  The letter describes how she finally woke Larry up to enlist what would become my future fathers help in capturing it, only to finally loose him for good back in the pantry.  Being resourceful (and sounding a bit proud of herself) she explained that she found the mouse's point of entry in the bottom of the pantry. She shared a bowl of soup with her now wide awake son then attached the tin can lid over the hole, thus, solving the problem.  The letter ends with a request by my Grandmother asking that my Grandfather "save up all those hugs and kisses for me, as I'm saving mine for you, I'll expect them upon your return home...  I do love you so." 

The letters sat unknown to my Father in the bottom of a box hidden away until I found them recently.  All neatly dated, in order and tucked away, they make me think of their life, and a time that at first glance seems so different than my own.  I found myself thinking nostalgically about what seemed to be a simpler time, with simpler troubles, but the reality is things were just a tough and routine as they are now and probably ever have been.  I can't imagine my Grandmother sitting at home alone with my young father, trying to plan her week based on food rations and radio news reports of massive invasions and death tolls in the thousands.  Going to the movies where the previews are propaganda news reels urging you to "support our boys" and giving up her stockings so that they can be used aboard some far removed battleship.   ( nylon from pantyhose was often used to make bags of gunpowder used in the big guns)  The world was a very scary place, and I can't imagine raising my own kids in a world that was aflame with war. (more than ours is)  Yet at the time things were surprisingly up beat.  Neighbors knew each other, a family sat down to dinner when ever possible together, and the nation as a whole worked united towards a single goal and they did it without a single text message!

I read these letters and it makes me think about my children and the way they will view the world as it was before they arrived.  It makes me think about the horrible tragedies and senseless violence that seems to be becoming more and more common these days.  The recent events have made us think twice before sending them to school, allowing them to go to the movies, and even to stay home as the computer age has opened yet another door for negativity that never existed before. 
I listen to my children as they get excited by a Tv show that's coming on, and I cringe when they say things like "OH BOY<  Honey Boo Boo"!  I watch the "kid friendly" shows, and most of them scare the hell out of me when you really look at what they say as a whole.  Most of the "kids" on TV have no parents to speak of, or if they do the dad is ALWAYS an idiot, who embarrasses them and the mother is always snarky. I find myself living in a world where my kids have a diminishing respect for much of anything and I have an aversion to punish them when they misbehave out of an extreme fear that they may mention that they got swatted to a teacher, followed by social services knocking on my door calling me an unfit parent! Everyday I worry about the choices I've made and the impact it has on my kids. 

We seem to live in a culture that celebrates stupidity, violence and ignorance, where the evil doers get all the media coverage, victims are forgotten in general, and the "Jersey Shore" mentality is entertaining.  Who made the decision to get us here?  Well, we all did, but it's never to late to do something about it!

Being a part of the cake industry has been great even if at times difficult logistically for me in that it has shown me a more peaceful side of humanity.  This isn't to say that there hasn't been a fair share of people doing all they can to inject negativity into it at times, but in general, despite the trouble with it from a business aspect, the people I've met and the things I've seen and things I've done because of it are without equal!   I cannot imagine my life without the people and the memories that have become a integral part of my life, many of whom I met and know because of cake, or at least because of my association with it.   I am thankful for the clients I've had that on occasion teach me something about life I hadn't before considered, the ones that surprise me, and open their hearts to me, making my soul a bit fuller and warmer.  I've been many places doing "the cake thing"  and I can say that it's been an amazing experience that I am grateful for in many ways.  Someday I may yet find a way to make a go of it financially even! ( that's a joke btw)  The thing I've learned from my exposure to so many people and so many different experiences is that contrary to what I am led to believe from the media and TV shows, there are really great people all over the place!  Somehow we've forgotten that...  I feel as though the past experiences of my life, have led me to a new sort of enlightenment in which I can see and appreciate the good solid people of the world.  The people that do good because it's good.  The people that work because they believe in a days honest labor.  The people that love because loving is the right thing to do.  I've known all sorts of people, at times I found myself not liking the person I was, or felt I was close to becoming, it is the good people and the love I've been shown by them that has given me new meaning and hope that things can and will get better.  I've stood in a room divided by imaginary barriers of language and nationality where one would expect to feel alone, only to find comfort, warmth and friendship.  I learned that a smile is universal, and an open heart is recognizable no matter the language.  In a way, I have cake to thank for that.

I know people follow my blog because its "cake related" and lately my blogs have had little to do with cake at all...  , Maybe it's the romantic in me that wants to see "cake" as something more than something we bake and decorate.  In my heart I want it to symobolize more.  For me "Cake" is the struggle I've lived through, the loss, the heartache and the triumph. "Cake" is the faces of all the people I've met, places I've seen and things I've managed to do.  More so "cake" is the experience and wisdom I've gained from taking part in it, creating something from nothing, creating a smile, a friendship, a celebration, LOVE...  LOVE, it's about love and living a life filled with as much of it as I can muster, and forgiving myself when I fall short of it thanks to my many imperfections.   I know I have so much to learn and so much yet to be understood, but I believe in Love, these days for me, that's enough.
So, at a risk of contradicting the sentiments expressed so beautifully by my Grandmother, "Gather up all those hugs and kisses and spend 'em like there's no tomorrow"
peace N love

oh and :  it's worth the time.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Strength. sometimes it finds you

Just the other morning, I was walking out of the gas station on my way to my second job.   I stepped off the sidewalk into the parking lot, looking down as I bundled my coat tighter around me bracing against the icy winter wind, at my feet lay a scrap of paper, what appeared to be a business card.  There was a word written on the card in blue pin, simply : STRENGTH...  At first I simply hurried by, in a rush to get to my van and speed off to work, but then something stopped me.  Turning around I walked over and stood above the tattered message abandoned on the pavement.  It had been run over many times and had nearly become a piece of the parking lot.  I read it again:  in all caps, STRENGTH...  I thought to pick it up, but again something stopped me and instead I stood there in the morning cold, simply looking at this simple word. I can only imagine what the station attendant must have thought as she watched me as I stood there dumb founded...  I've seen words, billions of them.  I've seen scraps of paper, litter and trash all over the place, but this one little piece of cardstock on this day stopped me in my tracks.  Finally I pulled out my phone, snapped a picture and parted ways, leaving this simple, yet powerful message in it's place for the next person to find.  In the time since, this is what I've been thinking:( so bear with me!)

My brain is a weird sort of place, and often a hard one to reconcile as it's set up like a mega plex theater.  I have at times dozens and up to hundreds of movie screens inside my head.  Some "movies" play randomly, like the memory of a flooded street as a child, while others are far more under my command, and everyday, I relive my past, look to my future and consider the options taken, not taken and still to come, essentially this means I think A LOT and it wasn't long before the reality of my day started to kick in. Traffic, plans for my work day and issues with my personal life, quickly found their way into my thoughts.  It was new years eve, and as I do to often I found myself thinking about the past year ( and more) about my current struggles and all the problems that seem to dog my life.  This past year has been a roller coaster ride to be sure!  I've expreienced some massive highs, and some dark sinking lows, and quickly it seems the dark of the lowest times stains the light of the good.  I try to be a positive guy and even harder try to focus on the good stuff and what I can do to make things better, but of late that's become a tough battle for me.  It pains me to look back at segments of my life.  I don't mean to imply that it's been bad, or even that I would really change any of it, but lately there has been a clarity cast on my past and with clarity sometimes comes the reality of facing up to things, long filed away and while never forgotten, seldom drug out for inspection. 

In light of some of the tragedies that have happened in the past year it seems almost arrogant to even consider ones own issues as problems at all, thinking back to my youth I still can't fairly compare to the loss and pain suffered by far to many people of late, yet inside ones own mind it is easy to get lost in self pity and remorse.   For my own part I seem to blame myself for things even when I know it's not really my fault.  The falling out between my mother and I was a nuclear bomb for my family and as of yet no one seems to be very interested in a truthful resolution or even a feeling of culpability.  Instead judgments seem to be cast, blame placed and never disputed, and divisions set seemingly in stone.  Hurt feelings and perhaps more so shattered images or ideals have caused such a rift that it seems easier to move on in different directions than to even attempt to see the truth.  (and you wonder where black sheep comes from?)  I've come to terms with the lifelong reality that my role within my family is to burden the fault.  Whether it bear truthfulness, matters not, but by blaming me they seem to be better at moving on.  Perhaps it's strength to accept this? I don't know. 

This year I accepted the blame for the final failure of my relationship.  Far to often I sat angry, focused on what I thought was the faults and shortcomings of the other, wondering what did I do to deserve this...  I am angry at myself  for the way I acted and felt.  It scares me to know that I could feel such animosity toward someone who really was doing their best for me.  I'm not sure even what started it or when but I had held on to every negative feeling and every bruise of my ego until there was little left but rage, anger and blame directed at the person I was supposed to be supporting.  I don't mean to pass the buck but it's very easy to mirror the roles we are raised with and in my case both of my parents, seemed to be so enormously unhappy with the other and blind to the fact that the issues and shortcomings go both  ways.  My dad used to run out the back door when my mother came home, while my mother would seem most angry just to have had to come home.  I can remember daily the scene of near panic in the supposed head of the household upon hearing the car door in the driveway, everyday was spent in avoidance and trying to lessen the conflict between people who were supposed to be my relationship role models.  It really brought to mind my impact on my three children because of the actions we had taken under their watchful eyes.   It makes me feel very guilty that because I wasn't strong enough they had to see so much of the same.  It sucks when relationships fail, but I'm confused as to why exactly in so many cases the end has to be so nasty and ugly as it was with my parents.  what's worse is when family members who once loved you learn of the split, the first thing they do is get mad, pick sides and get to hating!  The world would be so much the better if people would agree to the degree that the situation sucks, but help to move on with a positive plan of action and love, not blame, anger and finger pointing.   It's been very hard over the past few years to have gone through such a range of emotions only to realize that although we are not the right fit to truely live together fully, we are good friends, and do love each other.   I've shared a huge part of my life with her and having realized my own faults and shortcomings, it makes it impossible to be mad or to blame her.  Where I had once hated her ( as much as I hate to admit I felt that way) I now only feel regret and a need to support her and to be a better friend then I was a husband.  It sounds very strange I'm sure to some but letting go of the anger and bitterness I had so much of towards her was at first very hard, but one of the best things I have ever done.   Instead of thinking about all the things I was mad about and had often wrongfully blamed her for I can focus instead on building a relationship based on our 3 awesome kids and a friendship that supports her like I never did in the past.  The idea of presenting my children the relationship model we had built or the one I think we are creating now gives me a sense of hope I never had before.  Instead of saying I focus on love and peace, actually living that way. It seems that even when I felt I had none, strength found me here too.

The cake business...  You've all heard me say it if you've ever read a blog from me before: it's a bitch.  I've done some great things this year to be sure!  I've traveled around the world and met some beautiful people.  Carey, I and friends held one of the biggest cake events in the world and proudly shared the positivity and joy we and our awesome cake friends have with thousands of cake fans.  I've taught classes in 3 countries with excited students all sharing a common love of creativity and love expressed in cake form. Set a world record and even managed to make a few cakes I'm pretty proud of.  Add to that this year alone over 20,000 people have read this blog, I've had articles published globally and people still enjoy my DVD's  and one would say I'm doing great.  How could I feel like I'm failing at it so?  Maybe it's all the other drama that's been so strong this year, and the fact that due to the economic downturn many people just don't order cakes like they used to.  Thanks to the "walmartification" ( i made that up) of the industry many people order based on price alone and can't justify paying anything extra for a truely awesome cake.  I've found myself unable to keep the bills paid, struggling each week just to stay afloat.  It's been a busy year no doubt, but a profit still eludes me.  I've been working on all that I must do so much that everything else has suffered.  I work each day as a painter and building maintenance guy, often 7 days a week, and do cakes at night sometimes all night.  After six months of 12 hour days then coming to the shop afterwards to try and put together a cake business, it's very hard to say I enjoy doing a cake.  Often I find myself wishing I could just go hang out with the kids or as I used to do, ride a bike!  My passion is Cakefest and the Tv show we've been trying so hard to pitch, but when exhaustion is the primary force in my life, it's hard to persue that dream.  Cakefest isn't done to make a profit...  It's done to raise money for worthy charities and to have fun.  But in it's self is a full time job. 

The TV pitch I've mentioned many times. As I think I've eluded to before I have been asked several times by several different groups for show ideas.  It seems to go in spurts and each time I get excited and allow myself to get drawn into a weird twisted world where the people in charge consider shows like "honey boo boo" golden.  The concept is simple and in the past I've worried about sharing it as it's so easy to "steal"!  But at this point?  The idea is focused not so much on cake.  It's true that my own background is pretty diverse.  I've done a lot and lived through a ton, from nearly dieing at the hands of a drunk driver, molestation, family troubles and the more positive list of cool jobs I've had ranging from race car driver, CPR instructor, self defense assistant, security, to roofing, to working in a cave at 30 below.  I've traveled a lot especially recently and with each experience I've learned that there are countless good people focused on doing the most good they can EVERYwhere!  The show's intent is to showcase the everyday, unsung heros of the nation/ world who never get the attention they deserve. ( everything these days focuses on the bad and most "out there" people) By celebrating each of them individually, we celebrate the whole.  Until yesterday I had thought the show was simply about what they do and why, but having found this fateful card on the ground it donned on me the truth.  The heart and soul of the show idea is S.T.R.E.N.G.T.H...  We all have it.  Sometimes we don't see it.  As I surely didn't and still have trouble doing so.  We all have it and it is what makes us do what we often must, and sometimes pushes us to want more, want to do more and want to be more!  It's what we see in others that inspires us to follow and even to lead the way.  Strength often will make us say what need be said, do what is right and defend those who may need it. 

Life is about finding the direction and strength is the fuel that gets us there.
At a time when I felt I had none left, and that my tank had run dry.  I found it.  Laying in a parking lot, mashed into the pavement, written in blue pen.


Peace N Love

P.S. since this is a new years post, all my love and Thanks to everyone who has impacted me so much!  Thanks to Carey, Angela, My kids Tabby, Alyssa, Ethan, Dad,Jesse L, Richard F, Heuy H, Duane D, Rachel E, Michelle B,Rosalynne C, Chris H.,Lynette and Dennis, John & Robin, Eric L,Debbie G and Chris H, David G, Jasper M,   Kathy and Dan F, Ed H,  Ruth R, Peggy and Lonnie T, Bob B, Clara G , Eric & Patty W, Teresa H and family, Nelson F, Jay Q, Jaime W, Caroline W, John C (SGC), Collin my camera dude,   Honor Flight Gary L, Erin and Vets, and everyone that saw fit to take a class from me, watch a demo or support me in any way!~  I've been fortunate tho I sometimes forget to have met and love so many great and awesome people.  I know I'm forgetting you, but you know I truely love you all!