Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Advertising: What's the best bang for your buck? Part 1

My head is spinning.... every time I turn around someone else is "inviting" me to advertise online or in a magazine, attend a bridal show, or improve my SEO rankings.  While I would love to be everywhere and do everything, it's just not financially possible.  So where should one put their advertising money?  I have no clue, as I am not a business guru, but I can tell you my thought process on my most recent decisions.

- SEO companies - I am starting here because I really have no clue which ones of these are legitimate and really know the least about.  The goal of paying for this service is to improve your visibility on the web by improving the way search engines find your business.  While I feel this is very important, I don't feel like I need to pay to be the top result when searching for cakes... I am fine with being in the top 3-5.

- Online Websites - The Knot, Wedding Wire, Get Married, One Wed... I can go on and on about all the wedding vendor websites.  I don't like the way these websites are set up for my area.  Fredericksburg is half way between Northern VA and Richmond, and most of these sites are setup for general geographic areas, none of which I feel represent my immediate area.  If I was in Fairfax, it would be a different story, but until these website change the way they are set up, you won't be seeing me there (unless it is a free listing).

- Print Magazines - This is where I personally struggle the most.  Local magazines are a great way to get your name out there, but at the same time, they are pretty pricey.  Sure you can pay for 1/8 of a page, but will anyone see that tiny ad?  I have paid to advertise in 3 different print publications... one was inexpensive, so I said why not!  Another one was more of a local bridal guide than periodical, but it was reasonable and brought my name out to an area that I serve, but don't have a lot of presence in.  And the third... well, this is where it went south... literally.  A local non-wedding magazine, targeted at larger household income family was putting out a wedding issue and it seemed like a good idea to advertise.  Well, to this day I am still not sure what happened, but long story short, the magazine went out of business and I believe the wedding issue became a regular issue.  The biggest thing I struggle with advertising in a magazine is knowing whether or not it is worth it.  Sure I have a drop-down on my form mailer letting folks select where they found me, but do most people actually fill this out accurately?  If they found me in "Cool Weddings" magazine but then googled wedding cakes to find my website, which do they put there?  And yes, you can do promos ("Mention this add and get blah blah blah..) or QR codes, but I just don't want to deal with either.

So that leaves me with Bridal shows.  For me and my business, I think bridal shows are a great way to get yourself out there.  Since wedding cakes have 2 components, look and taste, this is the only way for people to do both, and as a bonus they get to meet me as well.  They can be expensive and take hours to prepare and setup for, but it allows you to not only mingle with brides and grooms, but other vendors as well.  Your return on investment is also more easily trackable because you typically get a list of attending brides.  On top of that, I like to talk... I will talk to a spot on the wall until it moves, and I think that helps me too.  Do I think bridal shows work for everyone?  Definitely not, but for right now, that is where I am putting my advertising budget.
What are your thoughts?  Part 2 will concentrate on advertising on the cheap...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

It's good to have a budget...

Sorry for the delay in my blog posts... for once I wasn't just ignoring them.  As you may have seen... I have been busy... and on top of that, the little one has an ear infection.  While he normally resides on my lap 80% of the time he is awake, with the ear infection, we were at a full 100% of the time and he wasn't sleeping much or very well.  Since he appears to be feeling better and is actually playing on his own, I thought I would try to squeeze in a quick blog post.

Budget... I hate to keep talking the cost of cakes, but this is for customers and potential customers out there.  I had a customer call me the other day, asking for a 3-tier cake with a carved cake as the top tier, fondant, the works.  I quoted her a price and her response was "She's not getting married!"  I giggled on the phone with her and asked her what her budget was.  She politely responded and we continued to discuss some options.  Eventually we came up with a few possibilities within her budget and she set off to discuss it with her daughter.  The next day, she ordered the cake!

Every day I get emails from folks requesting a quote on a specific cake or a cake to feed X amount of people.   I send them the best quote I can, based on the information given to me, and many times, I never hear back from them.  Obviously some of these folks can choose other bakers, but I have a feeling many of these inquiries end up not ordering a cake at all because of the price.  Yes, sometimes budgets and desires are so out of line that it is impossible to offer an alternative, but other times, if folks just asked or discussed their budget, something on a smaller scale could work.  Sure you might not get that life-sized teddy bear you saw on Ace of Cakes, but you may still be able to get something cute and unique and not break the bank.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Discounts, coupons, promos...

At a cake delivery this month, I started chatting with the DJ who was setting up.  We started talking about the wedding and he mentioned to me that he was booked just 2 or so months before.  He also mentioned that he gave the couple a 35% discount since he still had availability and it was short notice.  He said he either got the gig or spent the day watching football.

This got me thinking... how many other wedding/special event vendors did this?  Is this something that is suggested on wedding planning sites and magazines?  I don't know the answer, but I wonder if that is why I get a lot of "last minute" wedding cake requests.

I guess I am different than a lot of folks out there... I don't give discounts, don't do coupons, or run any promos/specials.  It's not that I don't think they are a good idea, but at this time, I think I am busy enough.  If I don't have cakes to make one weekend... I am thrilled!  That's not to say I don't want any business, it's just an extra opportunity for me to recharge and spend some extra time with my family.

Monday, September 19, 2011

How to order a custom cake

I know this may seem like a "duh" post, but you would be how many vague, last-minute, interesting, etc calls/emails I get.  Plus I remember when my husband and I ordered the groom's cake for our wedding... we went in told them the date of the reception, what cake flavor we wanted, and handed them the funny bride and groom topper.  I remember them asking if we wanted a square cake, but that is about it.  I am sure they asked a few more questions, but I gave them no design ideas.  Of course that was before cakes became the "in" thing.

So to save yourself and some cakers out there some grief, make sure you do or have thought about the following items before contacting someone to order a custom cake.

1.  Budget - Think about this before you even start contacting folks about estimates/ordering.  Custom cakes do cost more than grocery store cakes.  Remember that the more complicated and/or time-consuming the cake, the more it's going to cost.  The more servings you need... the more it is going to cost.

2.  Check Websites - So after deciding on a budget, I recommend going to custom bakers websites.  You can see the type of work they do and whether or not you think you will be happy with their work.  You may also be able to see some prices, learn about the baker, and some other important info.  Not all cakers are created equal!

3.  Order Early - I have talked about this one before... the earlier you can order the cake the better.  Calling me late on a Sunday afternoon and asked me how early a cake can be picked up if it was ordered today isn't going to work (Yes... this is a phone call I got today).  Some large custom shops may be able to accommodate orders with only a few days notice, but why risk it?

4.  Give the Specifics of the Event - Nothing bugs me more than an email telling me, "I need a cake for my daughter's birthday.  Can you help?"  Well maybe... it might help if you tell me when you need this cake, how many people you need to feed, whether the cake will be indoors or out, etc.  To me, the more info you can give me the better.

5.  Have an Idea of What Kind of Cake You Want... both inside and out - Half of the people that contact me are really good about this and send me a picture of the inspiration item or the cake they want replicated.  The other half... well... have no idea.  While I appreciate allowing me to be creative, I need some sort of direction.  Colors, interests, hobbies... something to go off of...  You also need to think about the style of cake you would like... 2 or more tiers, topsy turvy, carved, sheet, etc?  Fondant covered or iced in buttercream?  What cake flavors and fillings?  I need to know all these things to give you a price range for you to make a decision and hopefully make you cake.

6.  Be Prepared to Pay - Most custom cake designers do not take orders without at least a deposit, and some require payment in full.  And most of us do not consider a cake to be "ordered" until payment is received, so have a credit card ready or a pen and paper (for those of us who use PayPal to process credit card payments or accept checks).

Well there is my PSA for the day... hopefully it reaches the masses :)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

It's all about being a "lister"

Some of my friends and acquaintances ask me how I run a business and have two little ones at home with me.  The short answer is I am crazy and would need to be committed if I didn't have something other than being with the kids.  I was always this way.... I loved to be involved in activities in school, worked several jobs throughout high school and college, etc.  Once I graduated college and started working "a real job", I slowed down quite a bit and enjoyed relaxing after working 10-12 hour days, but I still needed to do something with myself while relaxing.  I baked, did counted cross stitch, and scrapbooked.  If I wasn't doing one of those, I was trying to figure out what I should do next.

When I got pregnant with my first son, I was commuting to Richmond 4 times a week, which was about 9-10 hours in the car, on top of my 45-50 hours at work.  I decided I was going to give my career a break and just be a stay-at-home mom.  Yeah... that lasted about 2 months... as I started cleaning out closets by listing things on ebay.  After that I got involved in some local mom groups and finally started making some mommy friends.  Of course, at the same time I was getting phone calls from work asking me to come back.  I resisted the first 2 or 3, but not surprisingly, I decided to go back.  It was only part-time from home, and I mostly worked during naps.  How could I turn that down?  Of course that wasn't enough for me... so I started taking cake decorating classes too... and well I guess that is how all this started.  At one point, I was running the business and working my "real job".  I finally left the real job when number 2 was born, because I knew I couldn't handle doing both with 2 little boys.

So how do I get everything done?  It's really quite simple... I make lists... very detailed lists.  Everything from sharpening dowels, to putting couplers on bags, to making buttercream and fillings... it all is on there.  When I have a spare minute, aka the baby ... er... toddler... is engrossed in something, I dig out the tools I am going to be using, wash a pan or two, respond to emails, blog, etc.  I get most things done while Reid naps, and after the kids go to bed, but weekends, federal holidays and after dinner time when Daddy is home to watch them, I try to sneak some hours in as well.

Besides listing, I also TRY to stay on top of things and get ahead... so if I need to batches of buttercream this week and two for next week, I try to make all 4 at one time.  I also try to combine like things... so I don't need to dig out and wash tools multiple times.  This is also why I don't take orders without a minimum of a week notice.  If I already made buttercream for the next two weeks, I now need to dig out the mixer again, the ingredients again, etc. to complete the new order.  It's just not worth it for me at this time.  I would rather be as ahead as possible and take a day off, than try to squeeze in one more order.  I am crazy, but not THAT crazy.

One would think with all this I would be as thin as a rail... but alas... as my name suggests... I am not...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

When it rains, it pours

Today is the beginning of a very busy 30 days for me.  Between today and October 9th, I have 8 weddings, 4 other special occasion orders, my Icing Smiles cake, 2 donation orders, and several bridal tastings.  I am sure I will be working late, and trying to squeeze in something with every free moment I have.  I am looking forward to doing some fun weddings though!  I have one wedding that is not only a cake, but a cookie buffet as well.  Another wedding is a cupcake do-it-yourself buffet done in a wine theme!  On the wedding cake side of things, I have a very cool cake that is incorporating snow leopard print and a Tiffany blue bow, a "outdoorsy" one with a textured buttercream, and one decorated with buttons!  Needless to say, I am trying my best to stay ahead of the curve by making extra buttercream, prepping boards and boxes, and starting early on those fondant decorations.

On top of that, my husband and are in the process of purchasing a home and having it ready for my parents to move down here.  While one may think buying a house doesn't require much time after you pick one, let me tell you that it is a lot different than it was several years ago.  Every financial document that you can imagine is required to be sent multiple times to multiple people.  Phone calls to contractors, Realtors, bankers, etc. need to be made and tracked.  Repairs need to be made and inspections need to be done.  It can make one's head spin!  But in the end it will all be worth it as my two little munchkins will have both sets of grandparents about 10 minutes from them!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

How To: Ruffle Flowers

I love ruffles!  Not on me... I bought a dress with some ruffles on it and was told by my husband that it wasn't me... but I LOVE them on cakes.  Maybe my love affair with them started with this cake... but then again I was putting some ruffles on some wedding dress cookies back in Dec of 2010... regardless... I LOVE THEM!!  

So a few weeks ago a got an email from a bride who was getting married on Sept 4th of this year and was wondering if I was available.  I already had a wedding cake for that weekend, a 2-tier birthday cake, and another cake for the day before, and really didn't want to stress myself out with another wedding cake for that weekend.  However, I thought about ICES convention and how much money I was probably going to spend, so I reconsidered and told her I was available.  And I was so happy I did!!  She told me that she had been stalking my website for a few months and was really excited for me to do my cake.  When she told me what she was interested in, I think I got really excited back!  Instead of using real flowers at her wedding, she was making fabric flowers and wanted some of these replicated on the cake.  She sent me some pics, and I was in love!!  So without further blabbering, here are the flowers...

So I set about my quest to replicate them as best as I could... and here is my tutorial on how I did them!

From a tool prospective... not too much is needed. Ball tool, circle cutters like the set here, foam pad, and a rolling pin.  Some extras you could use... dragees and/or edible pearls, some pearl luster dust, water pen, and  pump brush.  
 First up is the navy blue flower pictured above... in chartreuse.  I cut out a handful of circles in two different sizes, just for a variety, and let them start to dry a bit.  I wanted these to firm up a little as I was going to use them as my base.

Then I cut a lot more circles, in the next two larger sizes, and covered them with some plastic wrap so they wouldn't dry up.
 With each circle, I took the ball tool and thinned out the edges.  I wasn't concerned about how much or how little curl there was in each circle, just wanted the edges thinner than they were.

After thinning the edges, I picked up the circle and pinched it together in the center. I tried to vary the way I pinched them so I could get different ruffles looks on the flowers.

Once pinched, I placed them around the outside of the circle with a little water.  I kept adding the ruffled circles to the outside and then filled in the inside.  I fit them together and fluffed them as I added more ruffles.  I also made sure you couldn't see the circle base. 
And this is what they ended up looking like!  I think they turned out pretty well if I do say so myself!  After they dried, I ended up dusting them with some pearl luster dust to give them a little more dimension and attempt to make them look more like a satin fabric.
The other flowers (white ones from above), didn't turn out as well as I would have liked them to.  Not that I didn't like the way they turned out, but they didn't match as well as the other flowers did.  Again, I started out with circles.  This time, each circle was slightly smaller than the previous one.

I also used the ball tool to thin the edges again.  This time, I wanted to get some really ruffled, while others more wavy.  From there, I just stacked them on top of each other, securing each with a dab of water (final product below).

Now, if I really wanted to get them exactly like the pic the bride provided me, I would have need to make or buy formers in decreasing sizes (maybe 3-4 different sizes so that each circle would have dried in a concave lens shape and then stacked them the same way.

So here are the finished flowers on the cake.  As you can see, I added some sugar pearls and silver dragees to the centers of some of the flowers.  Hopefully you can also see a bit of the shimmer from the luster dust as well.  

In case you couldn't tell... I love these flowers.  I want to sit and make them all day, but alas I do need to take care of the kiddos and well there are those pesky orders I need to complete :)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Facebook "Networking"

I am a "fan" of several local pages that are either interest-based, such as being a mom, or have some sort of local publication or group.  I follow them to see what is going on around town, as I rarely read the local newspaper.

I saw several local businesses post on the walls of these types of pages promoting their business.  "Need a photographer?  Check out ABC Photography!"  "Best Burgers in town at Big Burger!" Etc.

While I see the opportunity as some free advertising, I don't do it.  Why?  I don't know... there is just something about it that seems a bit "off" to me.  I will gladly self-promote myself if a page is asking for pictures/info from fans, but to just do it to do it... eh... maybe it is just me and my personality.  It's like me at networking events... I usually hang back and chat with whomever I already know or who I am really interested in meeting, not necessarily who I should be talking to because they would get me business or new business.

Along these same lines, I don't go to TV cake designers pages and say, "Check out my work!" in hopes of gaining new fans or recognition from them personally.  Sure I would love to have Kerry Vincent say that I do awesome work, but I don't do anything that at least half of the cake designers in the world do, and I am sure at least half of those designers do those things better than I do.

So what are your thoughts on promoting yourself/business on other Facebook pages?  I am out of my mind and over-thinking things (wouldn't be the first time)?

Friday, September 2, 2011

My baby is getting to be a big boy!

Yesterday my little one had his 18 month well visit and I think I need to officially stop calling him " my baby".  Yes I know he will always be my baby, but he is FINALLY walking, starting to talk more and growing!  A little background on the growing part...

Mr. Reid (one of the many names I call the baby) was an awesome nurser and gained over a pound a week for his first several weeks he was in the world.  He was quite the little chunker as all babies should be.  He continued to nurse like a champ and took to solids really well... and then we introduced finger foods... bad, bad decision.  Around 9 months, he pretty much stopped eating.  He still nursed, would eat a couple of spoonfuls of food, but otherwise he just wanted to eat dry, crunchy things.  This was the start of Mr. Reid only doing things he wanted to do.  While his lack of eating continued, he also decided he didn't want to stand.  Whenever you would stand him up, he was like a limp noodle and wouldn't bear weight on his legs.  His doctor was concerned, and we started seeing a PT.  Well between the evaluation and starting appointments, he eventually started to pull himself up to a stand.  We worked with a PT for a while on the standing and of course walking.  He seemed to be making great progress and we discontinued in person sessions with the PT, figuring he would be walking in no time.  Ah yes... I should have seen the pattern...

Over the next few months, Mr Reid progressed with his walking... taking a few steps here and there, but at 16.5 months he still was not walking full-time and chose to crawl.  Yes... he CHOSE to crawl.  I watched him crawl, I told him to get up and walk.  He turned around, smiled at me in that Haha-mommy way, and continued crawling.  Enter the PT again... we met with her again and she confirmed my suspicions.  She gave me some tips to get him to walk, and after only a few days of tough love, he was walking about 95% of the time.

So, I am happy to report that even though Mr Reid still does not eat much, but at least he loves his Pediasure. He is now in the 20% of weight (up from 13%) and is actually on the taller side for his age!!  Who knew I would have a tall, skinny kid (I hope the trend continues)!  The doc was really happy to see him gaining weight and walking.  We discussed talking, since I assume he will not talk because he doesn't want to... and she didn't seem concerned at the moment, especially since he understands everything we tell him (sometimes more than I wish he did).  I guess after this visit, I feel like I can officially start calling my baby, my toddler!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It's always good to feel confident in your choice

Not too long ago I got a call from a frantic woman who was hosting a small bridal show downtown.  Apparently, the baker who was providing the cake could not be reached (bells and whistles start going off in my head).  I got this call after 6pm, and she needed a cake, any cake, as a donation, for the next morning.  She tried to entice me by saying over 20 brides would be tasting and see my cake.  I am all for more folks tasting my cake and seeing my work, but I had just completed and delivered two labor intensive wedding cakes and had my own bridal show to attend and prep for the following day.

I had a customer who contacted me several times about a small party cake.  In my mind, she was a bit obsessive about a small cake.  She stopped by to drop something off for the cake, and we chatted for a bit.  It was at this point I realized why she was checking in on me.  She had ordered a cake in a previous year from someone who was opening her own cake business.  She decided to help her out and placed an order, but never got a cake after paying and repeated phone calls.  Another year she placed an order somewhere else, and while I don't remember the specific she was disappointed again and was without the ordered cake.

The moral of the stories?  Pick out a baker who is reputable.  They may be more expensive than that person on craigslist, but you won't be scrambling for a cake at the last minute.

Monday, August 29, 2011

No news is good news

I always wonder what my customers thought of their cake.  With most special occasion cakes, I get to see the customer's reaction at pickup/delivery, but with most wedding cakes, the only reaction I get, if any, is from the wait staff or venue manager.  Sometimes I get to see the bride, groom, or MOB, but it's pretty rare.

I have heard that some cake designers send each customer, not only brides/grooms, a thank you card for being part of their day/celebration and ask them for a review on google and/or weddingwire.  I have heard some even offer a coupon or discount off a future purchase for a positive review on these sites.  I am not either one of these folks.

While the thank you notes to customers seems like a nice gesture and supports good customer service, I just don't have the time, money, or desire to write out 2-6 thank you cards, address them, and mail them on a weekly basis.  In addition to that, I just don't see the point.  I don't expect a thank card from Lowe's or Target when I make a purchase from them.  And yes, I understand it's different as you get to know some of the brides/clients very well and it's a special event, but I guess the practice just seems odd to me.  I am sure it's my personality and dislike of thank you cards in general (I always tell folks not to send me thank you cards... I know they are thank you and I wouldn't have given them a gift/meal/whatever if I didn't want to and think they would be grateful) or maybe it is just my hatred of writing.  Regardless, it's just not something I do or plan on doing and I guess I hope my work is enough to have them come back

As for "paying" for reviews, I just think it is sleezy.  I want customers to leave reviews because they want to, not because they will get a free dozen cupcakes or whatever.  How many of us have filled out a survey, joined a website, or whatever to get something for free?  Do we really "care" about those things as long as we get that free item?

On the flip side, I do love thank you emails and cards from my customers, just because I like to know they were satisfied.  I know I may have contradicted myself a bit, but I like to know I did a good job... maybe I should call it a feedback note, instead of a thank you.  Again though, while I appreciate them, I don't expect them, especially formal ones.  For those I never hear anything from, I assume that I did an okay job, because in this case no news is good news.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Is it time to go to Disney yet?

No... this is not my 4 year old talking... it's me... I am a Disney fanatic.  My family first took my younger brother and I when I was in 4th grade and if I remember correctly, we went again when I was in 6th grade, 9th grade, and my senior year of high school.  I then went with a bunch of friends my senior year of college for spring break.  I can't tell you the specifics of each trip, but I remember collecting a flag, pin and postcard from every country in Epcot.  I remember going on Spaceship Earth 15 times just because we could.  I remember eating at the restaurant in Mexico.  I remember loving everything and not wanting to leave.

After I graduated college, I spent my "vacations" at work, literally.  Not that I didn't take any time off, but when I did they were a day or two here or there and didn't go on an official vacation.  Once I met my husband, we started vacationing in Vegas (another love) and the Outer Banks with his family.  I had almost forgotten about Disney, but occasionally I would try to convince my husband's family to take a trip to Disney... without any success. My first child was born in 2007, and I knew I would finally get back to Disney!!  Of course, I kept hearing my mother's voice telling me that a child should not go to Disney before the  age of 5 or 6 so they can remember the trip.... 2012 seemed like a century away.

In 2009, I got pregnant with my second child and I made the executive decision that I was going to throw caution to the wind, ignore my mother's advice, and go to Disney, pregnant and with an almost 2.5 year old in diapers.  I think my mom thought I was nuts, but I didn't care... I wanted to go to Disney.  My family couldn't have been too upset with my decision as they came with us.

We had a great time and Aaron loved it, but would he remember anything from the trip?  A month or two after we were home, we went to Carlos O'Kelly, a Mexican restaurant that is in a "temple-like" building and he asked if we were going to go on the boat ride... for those of you who aren't familiar... there is a boat ride in the Mexico pavilion in Epcot.  Not bad for a 2.5 year old.  In the months following, he has referred to the Dumbo ride, not liking the Pirates of the Carribean ride, the Muppet 3-D movie, and the Toy Story Mania ride.  I am sure he doesn't remember everything from the trip, but he sure does remember some of the highlights... again... not bad for a 2.5 year old (He is a very unique child... his VBS teacher said he is a man stuck in a child's body... and that is probably the best way to describe him).

So after the baby was born in Feb of 2010... I decided we were going back to Disney... again because I wanted to go back.  Aaron would be in his final year of preschool in 2011-2012, so fall of 2011 seemed perfect.  We asked around and heard that the beginning of November is a great time to visit Disney... so I was sold (and it's our wedding anniversary as well!).  Of course, we are now taking a 20 month old in diapers and a 4.5 year old, but there will be 5 adults accompanying them, so it should be manageable.  I don't know if Reid (the baby) will remember anything, but he recognizes Mickey Mouse already and loves to be out and socializing.  I know he will have a blast, and everyone else will as well.

It's getting closer (less than 2.5 months to go!) and everyone is talking about the trip, making plans, reminiscing previous trips, ... so can it just get here already?!?!  And yes... I am a very impatient person...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Do you have a style?

We all have things we are attracted to, whether it is for us to wear or put in our home.  Sometimes we just like the way something looks, even if it typically doesn't fit our personalities or typical design sense.  My mom and aunt love everything "country", and needless to say I am not a fan.

I don't know if my home has a specific style, but I would put it somewhere within the traditional realm.  In the fashion arena, I am pretty basic... love jeans and casual shirts... so I guess you can say I am fashion-less.  However, when I am out shopping, I am always drawn to color, boldness, funkiness, and more modern than traditional items.  I also love retro items as well... particularly things with an art deco flare.

So when it comes to cake design, I am definitely drawn towards the simpler, cleaner, more modern cakes than the "old-fashioned" lots of piping and over-piping cakes.  I prefer stacked cakes to pillar separated cakes.  I prefer a white cake with one big statement element to staircases and fountains.  I like color, texture, and interest, not gobs and gobs of buttercream or royal icing.  I like things that are different and out-of-the-box.  I also like things that are done well and cleanly.  Nothing irks me more than seeing a bulge or a big wrinkle in the fondant.  It's just my personal style and preference, and I love to design cakes for those who want something a little different or allow me to design a cake for them.  I am not against doing a more traditional cake, but it doesn't get me as excited as trying out something new or different.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

And the winner is...

Sorry I didn't blog yesterday but my older son is on vacation with his grandparents, which meant the baby spent most of the day in my lap.  I finally had to tell him to go play with some of his toys and he actually did... for about 5 minutes.  While it is nice to only have one child to feed, clothe, etc., the baby does like to follow his brother around, which gives me a little bit of a break.  On the other hand, my stress level has been down quite a bit because I don't have to argue with the older.  Anyway...

So to the good part... the winner ... via of the "Perfecting the Art of Buttercream" DVD is number 2... Stacey!!  Congrats Stacey!!  Please send me your mailing address and I will get that to you.

I will definitely be doing more giveaways... so keep checking in or better yet, start following the blog.

Monday, August 15, 2011

It's new and fab

As some of you may have noticed, my blog has been redesigned not once, but twice in the past week or so.  Since I am a relatively new blogger, I couldn't decide how I wanted it laid out.  My first design was pretty much just to get the blog started, and my attempt at a redesign was mediocre at best.

I saw that my friend Meri at 2 Parents 5 Kids 365 Days redesigned her blog and figured I would ask for some advice as I really liked the setup of her blog.  To my surprise and appreciation, she took the time to redesign it for me!  It looks so much better!  So thank you Meri for taking the time to tinker with it!

Also don't forget about my giveaway in Friday's blog post!  Today is the last day to enter!  I know it is kinda specific to those of you who like to decorate, but it's a good base if you just want to make your kid's cakes too!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Close encounters of the cake celebrity kind - Giveaway!?!?!?

I try not to be a dork and go all crazy meeting "cake celebrities" but there are a few that I wanted to meet and talk to a bit.  I don't want to meet them because they are on TV, but because of what they have accomplished.  Not every decorator publishes a book, appears on TV, creates a new product/technique, etc.  Of course, not everyone gets recognized for their talent either.  Alright... enough of the chit chat.. and by the way... this is the most pictures you will EVER see of me...

Here is me with Edward Frys.  I took an introduction to airbrushing class with him back in March at the National Capital Area Cake show.  He has been on Food Network Challenge and does great work.  You may have seen this WALL-E cake or Yoda cake he did.

 This is James Roselle.  As I think I mentioned before, he does awesome sugar flowers... something I don't think I will ever be able to do.  He gave me some pointers, but for the most part, it's all about practice.
This is Jay Qualls of The Next Great Baker fame.  He was one of my favs from the show and he was the keynote speaker at the breakfast for shop owners.  He told us his story and how to work with social media.  One of my fav quotes from his talk was that just because you are busy, doesn't mean you are making money.  This applies to every business... not just cake... it kinda goes along with the "Work smarter, not harder".
 Of course, if you are at all familiar with cake, you know who this woman is.  She judges and critiques all the Food Network Challenge contestants, has published a book of her work, and of course is like the master of cake.  This is the only way I would meet her, so I figured I might as well ask for a pic.
Here is me with Marina Sousa.  She is probably the designer I look up to the most... and was the most excited to meet.  Maybe it's her style or the fact that she is a bigger girl like myself.  I also love her sugar molds and hopefully will find some time to give them a try.

And finally here is me with Sharon Zambito.  Sharon has a great line of DVDs that show you how to do various cake decorating techniques.  When I first started decorating, I borrowed Perfecting the Art of Buttercream and started using her tips and techniques.  I then bought all of her DVDs a few months later and learned a lot.  I still use some of Sharon's techniques, but I have also adapted some to fit me better.

 I get a lot of cake decorating DVDs... for me, I like seeing how different people do things and try to figure out what works best for me.  I have 3 or 4 DVDs on how to fondant a cake, and would gladly buy another... sure I have fondant down, but I feel the DVD is worth it if I get another tip or trick that I never heard of or seen before.  

So... to the giveaway... I have one of Sharon's Perfecting the Art of Buttercream DVDs up for grabs.  To enter, leave a comment below stating why you need/want this DVD.  For an additional entry, follow my blog and add a comment stating such (or add a comment that you are already a follower).  Entries will be accepted thru Monday the 15th of August.  Winner will be announced on Tuesday, August 16th.  Good Luck!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Credit Card Thieves Suck

I was going to write about some of the cake celebs I got to chat with at the convention, but I am going to sidetrack today because I am so angry.

A few days before I left for convention, Capital One called me to ask me if I had made a few charges on my business card.  One was from Napster for a little over $8 and the other was fit right or something clothing for $1300.  After some time on the phone and trying to figure out how to get a new card to me in Charlotte, I wondered where the thieves had gotten my card number from.  I went off to Charlotte, got a card there, and spent a ton.

So today, I called to activate my other cards on the business account and hear that my balance is WAY over what I expected.  I knew I spent a lot, but I didn't think I spent that much.  I asked the guy on the phone if the fraud charges were still on there and he said no.  Finding it impossible that I spent that much, I logged into my cap one account online and say another $1000+ charge to Dell.  I realize why that one wasn't flagged, since I had purchased a laptop from Dell before.  So I called back to report it, which let me tell you is near impossible, when one child is talking as loud as he can, the other is crying because you won't give him the phone, and you are trying to understand a muffled foreign accent.  Why is it that whenever I have a phone call the older one starts talking louder and more than usual?

On the bright side, it looks like on my convention purchases will be on my new bill, rather than the one that is coming in the mail!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

ICES Convention 2011 - The Cakes

Today I am going to feature some of the cakes/techniques I found interesting for one reason or another.  Some I was just in awe of how they did it, while others I liked a particular idea or design or color combo... whatever.  Unfortunately I didn't note everyone's name, so if you know who made the cake, please post it in the comments.
This reminded me of my tye dye cake from  last year
I liked the simplicity of this.

Love the flowers!

Love the stringwork... it's not too much.

My kind of cake from Melanie Stanger.

Another one from Melanie Stanger... she had 54 TIERS displayed at ICES.


Cake by Mark Seaman

Sorry some of these pics are kinda all over the place... it's not allowing me to organize them better... or maybe it is user error.  Anyway, these were some of my favs... check in tomorrow... I will be doing my first ever blog giveaway!!!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

ICES Convention 2011 - Charlotte, NC

It wasn't too long ago that my friend Zoraya introduced me to ICES, the International Cake Exploration Society.  I kinda giggled at the "exploration" part... is there a large cake somewhere that needs to be discovered?  Anyway, I joined and shortly after attended my first local cake show in VA.  As I got more involved with cake decorating, I learned a little bit more about the organization and found out that there is an annual convention every year where all the big names in cake decorating come together and teach classes, provide demonstrations, and introduce new techniques and products.  To me this sounded like heaven, but traveling to San Diego, CA, where last year's convention was held, seemed a bit out of my price range, plus the baby was only a few months old.  Disheartened, I found out that the following year's convention would be in Charlotte, NC... and that was within driving distance!!  So I started making plans to attend.

Fast forward several months and cakes later, and I was ready to have the experience of my cake decorating life.  Zoraya and I got down there around 12:30pm on Wednesday, unloaded, and headed over to the convention center to register, attend a "first-timers" orientation, and register our cake displays.

Thursday was the first full day of activities, and the only day I was taking hands-on classes.  I decided against taking several hands-on classes because a) they were more expensive than the demos, b) they take more time, and c) I wanted to make sure I had enough time to do everything else, most importantly, SHOPPING.  My first class was with Paul Caswell and Peter Gibson of The Sweet Guys in Orlando, FL.  They do a lot of chocolate work, so we made a sleigh and truffles.  Unfortunately we ran out of time, so I didn't get to assemble it... yet... but it actually turned out to be a good thing because I was able to carry it around with me in the molds in my bag.  Below is a picture of what the sleigh will look like.

The next class I took was Bas Relief and simple painting with Kelly Lance.  We painted a scene on a piece of gumpaste and then sculpted a fish on top of the scene.

Then came some demos... from stenciling to isomalt to making cake stands... I came home with a ton of new techniques, tricks, and ideas.... and a ton of new stuff.  Here is a pic of my "stash" after my first hour or so in the vendor hall...

I didn't take a pic of my entire stash, but needless to say I brought home A LOT!  Now I need some time to re-organize, unpack everything, and hope my credit card statement comes later than normal.  I actually bought so much I needed to empty some rolling carts filled with scrapbooking supplies that I never use, so I have more storage for my cake things.  How do you store your cake stuff?

Tomorrow I will show some of the displays I thought were neat... and then... close encounters of the cake celebrity kind...

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sometimes all you want to do is dive in head first

I have a problem... I have a lot of ideas .... from cake designs I would like to create to launching a product line to just sitting and playing with a new tool or technique.  And after this weekend at the 2011 ICES Convention, I have a million and one more things I want to do.  Unfortunately, there are only so many hours in the day, and well as I think I mentioned a few million times before I have those two little munchkins at home with me and orders I must complete. 

For me, one of the hardest things to do is wait... wait until the boys are older so I can have my time to really work on my business.  I know my boys are only small once, and that is why I gave up my original career as a Senior Business Analyst/SME (Subject Matter Expert) with a huge IT firm to be at home with them.  I wasn't looking to start a business, but it found me.  I am thankful for that.  So I will try to be patient, at least as patient as I can be, and wait for my time to shine. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Get that photographer over here!

It's been hot here... really hot here... with heat indexes near 120.  And as I have posted and reposted from others, heat and buttercream do not mix, and even with a fondant cake, things start to go south the longer a cake sits in the heat.  So I offer this piece of advice, have the photographer take pics of your cake as soon as possible, whether it is an inside or outside wedding.  Even do your place-your-knife-on-the-cake picture as soon as you can.  Why?  Because you never know what can happen to a cake from the time it is delivered to the time it needs to be cut.

But if the cake is supported correctly, what can happen... LOTS!  Obviously, one of the biggest culprits is heat... no matter how chilled a cake is, it doesn't take much time even in mild heat to start to soften which can cause sagging, leaning, and decorations to fall off.  Then there is the human factor... Uncle Jerry is enjoying the music and some drinks and whoops... there goes the cake.  Let's not forget about those little munchkins who love everything sweet and may decide to sample the icing before it is time!

I am sure we have all heard of or even a seen a cake not make it all the way to cake cutting, so just get that photographer over there!  At least you will have good pics!

Monday, August 1, 2011

But I really want a 3-D *insert famous character here* cake!

Ah yes... not a week goes by where I don't get a request for an Elmo, Mickey Mouse, or some other character/logo cake, and I have to inform the customer that I cannot make the cake they describe.  I always offer an alternative, decorating in the colors of the character or party supplies containing the character.  Another alternative is setting up a scene for the character so that a toy can be used on the cake.

Sometimes the suggestion works and sometimes it doesn't.  So why can't cake decorators do these types of cakes?  Kara Buntin, owner of A Cake to Remember in Richmond, VA is an author, certified pastry chef, cake designer extraordinaire, and blogger explains why.

"Whenever anyone starts talking about pictures of their cakes being stolen, all the other decorators rally to their defense and start talking about burning the photo thief at the stake. But if you look at the websites of the people whose pictures were stolen, chances are you might see someone's copyrighted logos or characters on the cakes that they've made.

I do mainly wedding cakes, but when grooms ask for a groom's cake that has a sports team logo, a college mascot, or a favorite brand on it, I have to get permission to use it.

If you make cakes with cartoon characters on them, you have to get permission to use them.

If you make a cake with a logo from another business, you have to get permission to use it.

Now, chances are that nobody is going to come calling to tell you that you've violated their copyrights, so it's really up to you to decide how much risk you're willing to take. If you're charged with a copyright violation, though, and the company does decide to follow through and make an example of you, don't expect it to be fun.

There are a lot of anecdotes about "copyright hunters" who go to bakeries and craft shows to see if they can find examples of violations. Disney is notorious for this, because they protect their copyrights so closely. There was one case where Louis Vuitton told a Scotttish bakery to stop making purse cakes that had their logo on it, so people are paying attention.

I have licensing agreements with a number of college and professional sports teams that allow me to make cakes with their logos and mascots. The professional teams usually have restrictions about not using photos of the finished cakes on websites or in advertising, so there are things that you have to do beyond just getting permission. Call the legal or community relations departments for the team or school to ask them what you need to do to use their logos.

Some companies are very casual about the use of their brands as long as it’s for a fan, and the logo will be used the way that it actually looks. But once again, you need to call and check with the legal departments from each company to find out what their requirements are.

Other companies are extremely protective of their brands, and won’t give you permission at all. When I wrote to Nickelodeon to find out what their policy was, they said that they don’t license their characters.

Then there’s Disney, which is the big Kahuna of characters. They own all of their own characters, obviously, and they recently bought the Marvel comics characters as well. No, you can’t get their license. No, don’t bother asking. No, you probably can’t afford it. And yes, they will prosecute you if they feel like it.

Here’s the link to the Disney Licensing page. Notice that they don’t have any pricing for the cost of the license listed? I assume that means “don’t ask” even if you do meet the rest of the requirements. And yes, bakeries and baked goods are a category, so they’re not overlooking us."

Thanks Kara!!

Friday, July 29, 2011

I have a confession to make... and a recipe

So yes... I am a cake decorator, but if you asked me what I want for dessert, cake would almost be last on my list (although creme brulee would be below that).  This isn't because I am sick of cake, it's just that I prefer cookies, pies, and pastries over cake... I always have.   I love the cookies that are crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside... ones with chocolate, nuts, pretty much anything.  And pie....I think the love for pie started with my grandmother's apple crumb pie.    It's not a complicated recipe, but it's one of those simply delicious recipes.  Lastly, pastries... from doughnuts to cannoli to baklava... ah my mouth is watering just mentioning them.  I love pastries so much that one of my goals is to go to Carlo's bakery and try their lobster tails and other goodies.  Hopefully they will get that big factory up soon and I can order me some soon!

Alright, I feel better now that I got that off my chest... and for those of you with a cookie sweet tooth, try these on for size. Snickerdoodles... the you-don't-have-to-run-to-the-grocery-store-to-buy-anything cookie.  The recipe is from Martha Stewart.  Enjoy!



  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup pure vegetable shortening
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar, plus more if needed
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon, plus more if needed
  • 2 large eggs


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, with one rack in top third and one rack in bottom third of oven. Line baking sheets with Silpat baking mats or parchment paper; set aside.
  2. Sift together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine butter, shortening, and 1 1/2 cups sugar. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add eggs, and beat to combine. Add dry ingredients, and beat to combine.
  3. In a small bowl, combine remaining 1/4 cup sugar and the ground cinnamon. Use a small (1 1/4-ounce) ice-cream scoop to form balls of the dough, and roll in cinnamon sugar. Place about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until the cookies are set in center and begin to crack (they will not brown), about 10 minutes, rotating the baking sheets after 5 minutes. Transfer the sheets to a wire rack to cool about 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to the rack. Store in an airtight container up to 1 week.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Charlotte, NC... ready or not, here I come

Next week at this time I will be waking up in the Westin Hotel in Charlotte, NC.  Charlotte is this year's host city for the 2011 ICES Convention.  For those of your who do not know, ICES, is the International Cake Exploration Society and has been around for over 30 years.  It's a great way for a cake enthusiast to learn about new trends and techniques, get recipes, and find folks that share the love of cake decorating.

This is my first time attending the convention, and I am so excited to go.  I have heard so many wonderful things that I can't wait to experience them myself.  From the classes to the shopping to the demos... I may think I have gone to my own personal heaven!  My biggest concerns are being overwhelmed and overspending (I LOVE cake decorating tools... and unfortunately... they aren't cheap!)!

Besides having 5 days of CAKE, CAKE, CAKE, I will also be away from both of my boys for the very first time.  I may not know what to do with myself!!!  Of course, me being away means my husband will be at home with the boys for 5 full days... hopefully he will have a better appreciation for me and understand why I am in a bad mood when he gets home from work later than expected.

So the next few days will be getting my orders out the door, prepping a small display cake for the convention, laundry, packing, and getting all those little things done before I leave!!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

You mean you can't make me a 3-tier cake for tomorrow?

It never fails... week after week I get a call... or two... or three... on Wednesday/Thursday/Friday asking me to make a "small" cake to feed 40-70 people to be picked up in the next 24-72 hrs.  Most of the time I am already booked, but every once and a while I have a small opening so I ask them what they are interested in.  Nine times out of 10 their "simple cake" turns into a 3-tier cake covered in sugar flowers or some 3-D monstrosity, and I politely tell them that is not possible in such a small timeframe.

I am always asking myself why folks wait so long to order a cake... a simple sheet cake from a full service bakery/grocery store... not a problem, but something custom for a medium to large party?  Even one of the large custom shops (employees, commercial ovens, SPACE!!) in my area requires a minimum of a week notice, which I don't think is asking a lot considering invitations were sent out at least 2 weeks in advance.

I think people don't realize things can't be whipped out in a half an hour like they do on TV.  The other half of these calls tell me that "the baker" backed out, can't be contacted, etc.  While I feel bad for these folks, most of the time I really don't have any room in my schedule for another cake.  Even when I do have a little wiggle room, which isn't often, I typically don't feel like disrupting my entire schedule and possibly staying up most of the night to complete a new order.  Things can go wrong and I don't like having that tight of a schedule.

So what's the moral of the story?  Order your cake when you book your venue, send out your invites, etc., or you might not get the cake from your first or second or third choice.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What's for dinner?

This is something my husband and I say to each other at least 8 times a day.  Sometimes we answer it and sometime we don't.  It can be heard to squeeze in making dinner when I work during naps and have a baby who doesn't let me go to the bathroom without whining and following behind me.  Most of the time we enjoy crockpot meals that we can put together the night before and just throw it on in the morning.  Other times, something quick on the stove top works just as well, especially if it doesn't need much babysitting.  This is one of those meals...

Chicken Georgia by Paula Deen


  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
  • 4 skinless boneless chicken breast halves
  • 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 4 ounces grated mozzarella cheese


Melt butter over medium heat. Add mushrooms and shallots and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook 10 minutes. Add chicken and cook 10 minutes on each side, or until tender. Transfer chicken to platter and sprinkle with grated cheese. Top with mushroom mixture. Cook and let stand 5 minutes or until cheese melts.

If you buy the pre-sliced mushrooms, the only thing you need to prep, besides actually remembering to thaw chicken breasts (I SOOO love those chicken breasts that are packaged in 2's), is the shallots!  It is great as is, but if you are a garlic and wine lover, add a splash of white wine and a little bit of minced garlic to the butter mixture.  I love to serve it with asparagus and some rustic mashed potatoes (not that these are done very often, but I would do if I were serving it for a dinner party... otherwise Potato Buds are my best buds!!!).

Monday, July 25, 2011

The cake costs how much??!?!?!? - Epilogue

I just wanted to clarify and discuss a few more items concerning my previous blog post.  This is probably going to be a bit of a bullet point list since this is the way I usually think...

- I thought about that blog post for a while... a really long time and tried to figure out how to attack it.  Yes, I know I didn't discuss the other major side of the coin... the cost of ingredients, pans, cutters, tips, overhead, etc. I chose not to add this in because there are a TON of variables there.  Obviously having a storefront has more overhead than running a business out of your home.  Using only organic ingredients costs more than non-organic.  Getting equipment wholesale costs less than buying it at retail, etc.

- Another thing I wanted to discuss was hourly wage/experience and how they play into the price of a cake, but I didn't want to my blog post to end up being a short story.

- Kids... yes kids... I have 2.  Most of the time I work when the little one naps or the both of them are in bed for the night.  Occasionally I need to hire a sitter to watch the kids so I can get things done.  In my opinion, it is something else that needs to be factored into the cost of the cake.  Most folks, most of the time wouldn't take a job where they would bring home a $300 weekly paycheck and have to pay $150 a week in daycare expenses.

- I hope it didn't sound like I was complaining about how long it takes to make a cake.  I just wanted to make it clear that it takes hours, not minutes to do a cake.  And yes, because I typically have to stop and start things because of the kids and the fact I don't have a commercial kitchen, it takes me longer to complete things.  So for me, it may take me 5 hours to make cake a particular cake, but only 3-4 hours without the interruptions.  This is something I accept, and don't figure that extra time into my costs.

- My To Do list my differ from other cakers.  I know some make their own fondant and others who buy their buttercream and all their fillings.  While purchasing pre-made things are a time saver, they also typically cost more.

- I guess the last thing I wanted to mention was doing things assembly line and speed.  I usually group similar things together to save time, I don't do one cake from start to finish.... just wanted to clarify this.  And no, I don't work at the speed of those on Food Network Challenge all the time.  Just like everyone else I have days where I get things done faster and other days, stuff just seems to go all wrong.

Alright, I think I covered everything else I was thinking about since I posted the previous entry.  I will now lay the cost of cake to rest... at least until I encounter a new situation.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The cake costs how much??!?!?!?

Ah yes... something every custom cake decorator/designer/artist hears at least once a month.  It's the one thing we complain about when you get us in a room together.  While we realize sticker shock is part of our business, we do wonder why folks think custom cakes are comparable to those from grocery stores or a "high-volume" bakery.  It's like comparing a filet mignon at Ruth's Chris to a hamburger from McD's or a MDF storage unit to a skilled carpenter's cabinet.  There's just nothing to compare in either of these cases... apples and oranges.  However, both are needed (well the McD's hamburger is debatable) and have their uses.

To me, one of the biggest differences between the two is the amount of time it takes to prepare from start to finish.  From ordering to cleanup.... I, with some help from hubby, am responsible for everything that goes into one order.  I have to answer emails/phone calls, discuss/sketch designs, and host consults.  I (or my husband) buy all the ingredients that go into my goodies.  I hunt for and buy all my pans, cutters, tips, molds, etc that I use to create each cake or cookie.  At this point, I haven't even remotely touched a pan or rolled out some fondant!

Now that everything has been purchased, I need to make buttercream, fillings, and the cake.  Next, I can color fondant and/or buttercream to fit the cake's theme.  After that, I start making those decorations... one of those things that can take 10 minutes or 10 hours.  I also need to prep a cake board, support boards and dowels (if it is a tiered cake), piping bags, and a box.    And finally it's assembly time!!!    Leveling and torting the cake, filling the cake, icing the cake, rolling out fondant (if applicable), smoothing the fondant, decorating the cake and making those decorations that can't be made in advance. Whew!  Glad that's over... oh wait... there is a mess of pans, tips, cutters, bowls... all over my kitchen and sink... time for clean up!!!

And finally, there is the paperwork, making deposits, and all those other business related things that take time too.  Those items that fall under the "other" category on your status report at the end of the week.  Sure these may take a few minutes here and there, but it is still time.

So now that I bored you with my weekly To Do list... I just wanted to point out that a lot more time goes into make a cake than most people think about.  Even making a simple cake with a can of frosting and no decoration will take at least 15 minutes to mix and put in the oven, 15 minutes to ice, and 15 minutes to clean up, and then there is the idle time of having the cake bake and letting the cake cool.

I am going to end with some things that I read on a popular cake forum recently.  One woman said that a supermarket bakery decorator is expected to churn out at least 4 - 8 sheet or small cakes an hour.  These cakes are already baked, sometimes already even iced, so all they need to do is borders, make or place roses/decorations/airbursh/toys onto the cake, and personalize it, if necessary.  The icing can come is pre-made, pre-colored, and some even already in piping bags.  At less than 15 minutes each, they obviously should cost less than something that take 4 or more hours.

And in case anyone is wondering... yes... I do purchase cakes from BJs or Giant on occasion...
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