Sunday, August 30, 2009

Shhhh....It's a Secret - a PostSecret!

"Reveal anything - as long as it is true and you have never shared it with anyone before."

This is the simple request that has inspired thousands of people to submit their secrets on postcards to Frank Warren, who posts some of them on his blog and has included many in his 4 published books.

Why do people submit their most private secrets to Frank? After all, he'd probably be the first to admit that he's just a regular guy. The phenomenon is puzzling and astonishing, to say the least. The messages on the post cards range from long-repressed confessions to admissions of socially unacceptable emotions, from apologies to regrets, from warnings to promises.

Are they all true? It's hard to tell. In fact, Frank discusses this point on his website. Regardless if the secret is true for the author or not, another reader may find serendipitous truth in the message. Lives have changed, and will continue to change, because of these postcards - through both authorship and readership.

Frank describes the postcards as individual pieces of art. So true! But they are also glimpses into the author's life and experiences. The messages are purposely kept brief and, sometimes, cryptic. When reading them, you'll find yourself imagining the situation. You'll recall things from your own past that you had long forgotten. You'll be shocked, appalled, and impressed all at the same time.

While I love checking in on PostSecret from time to time, the purpose for this post is to spread the word that Frank is coming to the University of Florida to share his personal story and show some of the secrets that were banned from his books!

September 15, 2009
Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

A limited number of tickets will be distributed to UF students with a Gator One ID on Friday September 11 and Monday September 14 at both the Phillips Center and the University Box Office starting at noon. Remaining tickets will be distributed to the public beginning at noon on September 15th at the Phillips Center.

Friday, August 28, 2009

iGoogle - My New Favorite Thing!

I have recently discovered iGoogle, and I LOVE it! What is iGoogle, you ask? It's a personalized Google homepage! You can have everything - the latest news headlines, funny jokes, comics, your email, local weather, TV listings, etc. all in one place!

WARNING: iGoogle is addicting. Setting it up and checking out your homepage will cause you to lose lots of productivity on other tasks.

Here's a screen shot of my personal iGoogle page:

So what's on my page? Let's take it from the top! (Click the photo to get a larger view.)

I chose the colored pencils theme because I love COLOR! (And I thought it was simple and cute.) I like to keep my Gmail, clock, callendar, and the local radar map at the top so I can easily see them. Right smack-dab in the middle, I have my To-Do list. I'm slightly embarrased that my current To-Do list is now being projected to the world...don't you think To-Do lists are at least slightly personal? Oh well, now you can see that my world revolves around my dissertation defense, cakes, and my blog posts! *bashful smile*

For fun, I added the "Places to See Before You Die" gadget because I love nature and beautiful photos.

Here's the middle of my iGoogle page:

That thing on the top left is my Google Reader (LOVE IT). You can have all the blogs you follow (admit it, you are a blog stalker) or any RSS feeds you subscribe to sent to this gadget. When a site is updated, it shows up in your Google Reader so you can read the brief synopsis or choose to visit the site to read the whole post.

I have 38 subscriptions coming into my Google Reader! Imagine checking all 38 wesites periodically throughout the day! Yikes! What a time killer! Now, I can just refer to my wonderful homepage to see what's new. So kind of sites do I subscribe to?

TONS of cake decorating and dessert sites, including Bakerella, Baking Bites, Cake Wrecks, Confetti Cakes, and Cupcakes Take the Cake to name a few. As I discover new sugary sites, I'll post them here so you can all enjoy them too!

For fun, I subscribe to Indexed, PostSecret, Pioneer Woman, and Stacy Clair Boyd.

To keep up with technology, media, and all that other good stuff, I get feeds from Bits, Gadgetwise, and Media Decoder.

And last, but certainly not least, I have all my friends' blogs fed right into my feeder: Life is Beautiful, the Doughtrys, sPIGot, the Kerseys, Elise Knight Photography, and Mystery Meats & Other Treats!

Phew, I told you I have a lot of subscriptions! Ok, back to the iGoogle page. I get a daily funny picture (beware, they're not always kid-friendly...that's why the gadget is minimized for this post), motivational quotes, funny quotes, a feed from The Onion, PhD Comics, more weather, and my finances (aha, I rememberd to hide my personal finances before I took this screen shot!).

And don't forget about the ends of the colored pencils at the bottom of the page!

Want to get an iGoogle page of your own? You need a Gmail account to create one, but Gmail accounts are FREE so that shouldn't stop you! In fact, here's a little video of a cute Google Guy showing you how to use iGoogle. If you find any cool gadgets or themes, share with the rest of us!

Need more help getting started? Here are a few tutorials:
Adding Gadgets
How to Set Up an iGoogle Page
How to use iGoogle to its Fullest Potential

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Jessica's and Andy's Wedding!

This weekend, I was honored to make a wedding cake for Andy & Jessica! They chose a 3-tier design where two tiers were white cake and one tier was red velvet (my favorite!). I wrapped a deep purple ribbon around the base of each tier and then used ivory buttercream to pipe a design that resembled the embroidery on the bride's gown.

My wedding tiers are always 3 layers of cake and 2 layers of filling so each tier ends up being 5 inches tall. That leaves a lot of room for piping! I piped the design with a tip 2 and tip 1 dots. Those of you in the know feel my pain, don't you? My hand was KILLING ME after I finished! Not to mention that I was still working on it at 2am Saturday morning - yikes! But it was well worth it when I saw the finished product and how happy everyone was with it!

Anyway, here's what the cake looked like when I left it at the reception:

And here's a close-up of the top tier, which the bride and groom took home to save for their 1 year anniversary. They provided the cake topper, and I thought it looked fabulous on the cake! This shot also has a good view of the gum paste flowers I made for the cake - ivory gerbera daisies, lavender hydrangeas, lavender roses, and green cymbidium orchids. Remember the sneak peak I posted earlier? Same flowers, just lots more of them!

By the way, isn't the lighting in this photo absolutely ethereal? Totally on accident! I wish I were a photographer so I could say I did that on purpose! Oh well, I'm definitely not the master of all trades.

Here is a close-up of the bottom two tiers - you can see the piping really well here:

And let's not forget the groom's cake! Andy is a huge Harley Davidson fan so I airbrushed his cake (chocolate with strawberry filling - yummy!) black. Then I made a frozen buttercream transfer Harley logo and put that on top. The flames are gum paste that I airbrushed with yellow, orange, and red. The bride and groom are made of modeling chocolate and are sitting on a plastic toy motorcycle. Shhhh! Don't tell, but it's a Hotwheels motorcycle...I couldn't find a Harley anywhere in town!

Here's the cute couple enjoying their first dance. I had a great time at the wedding - and it couldn't be because I was surrounded by Seminole fans! (Ok, maybe that helped.) In fact, Jessica & Andy entered the reception doing the Seminole Chop! Go Noles!

Finally, the bride and groom cut the cake! People often ask me if it's painful to watch people ruin my piece of artwork. While I do consider cake decorating art, it is NOT painful to watch someone destroy it. For Pete's sake, I've been looking at that thing for hours - please get rid of it! Besides, what good is cake if you can't eat it!?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Catching up with the Times

Cake Walk is going high-tech! It took me long enough, but you can now sign up to receive updates via RSS feed or your email inbox when I make a post. Just click the link in the sidebar to be in the know!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Working with Modeling Chocolate

As promised, here are the modeling chocolate recipes I am using (from B. Keith Ryder):

White Modeling Chocolate
6 lb. good quality white chocolate couverture, chopped*
2 2/3 c. light corn syrup

Dark Modeling Chocolate
5 lb. good quality dark chocolate couverture, chopped*
2 2/3 c. light corn syrup

*Do not use chips as they have been formulated differently to retain the chip shape during shipping and storage. I used Ghirardeli chocoalte bars because that's what they sell at my grocery store.

If you're like me, you don't have 6 lbs of chocolate lying around so smaller batches may be helpful:

Small-Batch White Modeling Chocolate
1 lb. good quality white chocolate couverture, chopped
7 Tbsp. light corn syrup

Small-Batch Dark Modeling Chocolate
1 lb. good quality dark chocolate couverture, chopped
10 Tbsp. light corn syrup

Gently melt the chocolate in a plastic bowl in the microwave, heating for only a few seconds at a time to avoid burning. Stir to melt remaining lumps.

Warm corn syrup so that it's approximately the same temperature as the chocolate. Pour the corn syrup into the chocolate (Use the high-tech finger test here: stick a finger in the corn syrup and then in the chocolate. If you don't notice a change in temperature between the two, you're ready to combine them). With a rubber spatula, stir quickly until the mixture is well-combined. It will thicken considerably as it cools.

Pour mixture onto 2 layers of plastic wrap and wrap it airtight. Let set 1 day at room temperature or a couple of hours in the refrigerator before using.

When you're ready to use the modeling chocolate, break off a workable amount and knead it in your hands. As the chocolate warms, it will be come malleable and soft. If you cannot knead the chocolate, heat it in the microwave for 5-10 seconds.

To color the chocolate, you can use many different types of color. If you'd like to use oil-based candy or chocolate coloring, add it to the melted chocolate before the corn syrup is added. If you use powdered color or gel/paste colors, you can knead it in after the chocolate has set up. Liquid colors are not recommended! I have added both paste and powdered colors to my chocolate. The powdered colors are more subtle and will require more powder to be added to reach a vivid shade. The chocolate picks up the colors from the pastes quickly so a little bit of color goes a long way. However, I have found that kneading color into chocolate is much more messy than kneading it into fondant or gum paste. The color does not seem to readily absorb into the chocolate so it gets all over my hands as I knead it. If you don't like your hands and fingernails to be dyed different colors, consider wearing food-safe gloves.

Working with modeling chocolate is also messier than working with gum paste or fondant. As you work the chocolate, it will get softer and stickier. The rate at which this occurs is dependent on the temperature of your hands. Luckily, I have rather cold hands so that gives me more time to work with my chocolate. If you notice the chocolate has become extremely soft and sticky, set it down and walk away. You can put it in the refrigerator if you're in a hurry.

Most decorators use shortening, powdered sugar, cornstarch, or a combination of all of those to keep fondant and gum paste from sticking to their hands. With chocolate, the best thing to use is water! When water touches chocolate, it seizes so that's the perfect thing to use when you don't want the chocolate sticking to your hands!

One of my favorite things about working with modeling chocolate is that you can blend all seams! When I make figures, I first shape the body & legs, then add shoes/feet, arms, the head, etc. Because everything is added in steps, you'd have lots of little seams if you were using fondant or gum paste. Sure, you can work these seams out, but that takes a lot of time (for me, at least). With modeling chocolate, just use the back of your dresden tool (definitely the #1 modeling chocolate tool) to blend the seams! It's so easy!

Another thing I love about modeling chocolate is its strength! If you've ever created a gum paste figure, you know you can't make the whole body at one time. The figure sags under all that weight. In the past, I have had to make the legs and let them dry, then add the torso and let it dry, and then add the head! That's a lot of waiting, and I just don't have the time! Modeling chocolate will set up hard in a matter of a few minutes so you can continue building. In fact, by the time you've cleaned your seams and perfected the body form, it's firm enough for you to add other details like arms, hands, etc. And, there are no internal supports required for small figures! No need to stick toothpicks or dowels down the middle of the body to hold it up - the chocolate can stand on its on. Of course, if I were doing a large figure, I would definitely use a strong support system.

Your chocolate figures will be stable for weeks, months, and perhaps even years if stored properly. Mike McCarey recommends wrapping the chocolate in plastic wrap, then putting it in a zip-top bag, and storing it in the refrigerator. The chocolate can become weakened with moisture in the air so this is particularly important if you live in a humid environment. Having said that, I live in Florida. I made this chocolate rat 1 week before the cake was due and it sat on the countertop all week with no problem. For longer storage, I definitely would have taken the precautions Mike reccommends.

So what else can you do with modeling chocolate besides figures? Oh, where do I begin?! Here are some fun things Mike showed us in his ICES 2009 demo:

Ok, let's take this piece by piece: On the bottom right is an example of marbelizing that you can do with modeling chocolate. It works the same as fondant or gum paste - and isn't it pretty? On the top right is a piece Mike embossed with a hyroglyphics pattern (pattern is seen on the bottom left) and then painted with brown food coloring. The coloring seeps into the lines of the pattern and you can leave it like it is, or gently wipe away the brown on top of the pattern - either way is impressive! This would also be fabulous for a brick design! On the top of the picture is a green piece of scrapbooking paper that looks like reptile skin. Mike gently pressed this into the white modeling chocolate on the top of the picture. I know it's hard to see, but trust me that it looked really nice! The last 2 pieces to talk about are the blue and green thing with purple dots and the white thing with green leaves. On both of those, Mike cut pieces of colored modeling chocolate and laid them on top of the sheet of rolled-out modeling chocolate. Then, he rolled them together. The pieces laying on top seemlessly press into the rolled-out sheet and you can't even tell that they were 2 pieces to begin with!

This is a dragon Mike made out of modeling chocolate. Notice the water splashes (also modeling chocolate) coming up around the dragon body. Modeling chocolate stands upright immediately! No need to support it with tissue paper or other strange objects like we're used to doing with fondant and gum paste! The bottom blue border is a collar that sits about 1 inch away from the base of the cake. Yes, it's standing upright all by iteslf. What you can't see is that there is a 1-inch strip of modeling chocolate laying around the base of the cake that this collar is attached to.

Many of us are accustomed to putting fondant ribbons around the base of a cake tier. We roll the fondant to an even thickness, trim the ribbon so that it is of even width all the way down, and then gently attach it to the cake. More often the not, the ribbon stretches (and changes shape) when we try to transfer it to the cake. What a pain! Modeling chocoolate will solve that! Just roll the modeling chocolate and thin it like before. However, when you life the modeling chocolate, it will not stretch! Just dab a little water on the back of the ribbon, and it will stick to the cake with no problem!

So, as you can see, modeling chocolate is my new love. I'm thrilled to find a medium with so much versatility! I hope you try it out for yourself - after all, isn't that the best way to learn something new?!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Recipe for Skill

I ran across this today, and I like it:

The Recipe for Skill
10 lb. passion for your craft
6 lb. drive to help you through the rough times
9 lbs. pride in oneself and the team
7 lbs. vision to look beyond normalcy (or insanity!)
2 lbs. intelligence

Yield: A life full of joy and satisfaction.
This recipe is for volume skill; for a la carte, reduce ingredients to 70%.

Although, I think they need to add something like:
5 lbs. willingness to work through exhaustion, not taking the easy way out
6 lbs. resourcefullness to solve all the problems you will encounter

Saturday, August 15, 2009

August Tutorial - Gum Paste Calla Lilies

Have you been dying to try your hand at gum paste flowers but are unsure where/how to begin? Well, calla lilies are probably one of the easiest sugar flowers to make so they're a great place to start! And, they look so elegant and real when they're finished that everyone will be impressed.

Start with your favorite type of gum paste. For those seeking the easy route, your local craft store sells Wilton Ready-to-Use Gum Paste that will be fine for these flowers. There are other brands you can buy online, but I prefer to make my own using Nicholas Lodge's recipe, which I've described in a previous post.

Roll the gum paste between 1/8 and 1/16-inch thick. I don't make my calla lilies nearly as thin as I do my rose petals. Don't worry - they'll still look dainty and delicate. Cut a petal using a teardrop-shaped cutter.

Place the petal on a thin piece of foam and use a ball tool to lightly thin the edges. Calla lilies do not have a lot of ruffles so don't go crazy here. To thin the edges, hold your ball tool like you hold a pencil - this will keep you from using too much force and tearing through your petal. Place the ball end 1/2 on the petal and 1/2 on the foam. Applying gentle pressure, slide down the edge of the petal. For this flower, it is better to use long strokes rather than short quick ones, which creates lots of little ruffles. Ruffle the petal from the narrow end to about 2/3 of the way to the wider end.

Wrap this petal around a cone. The easiest thing to do is use the cone-shaped cups you see at water coolers, but I've had the darnedest time finding those in Gainesville! To improvise, I just made some cones out of card stock. Wrap the petal around the top of the cone so that you leave a small hole at the top and one side overlaps the other. You may need to apply a little clear vanilla, alcohol, or water to "glue" the edges together.

Use your fingers to gently curl the edges of the petal upward. I like to give the point of the petal a small pinch to help keep the curls in place. Depending on the gum paste you use, you might need to repeatedly curl the edges as the petal dries. With the recipe I use, you can curl once and forget it! Anyway, let the petals dry overnight.

Meanwhile, make the center of the calla lily, which is technically called the spadix. The size of the spadix depends on the size of your calla lily petal. The general rule I use is to make my spadix about a half inch shorter than my petal. Roll yellow gum paste into a snake that is slightly tapered on one end. At the fatter end, insert a tooth pick or wire. Here, I actually used uncooked spaghetti noodles - but be careful! The spaghetti will hold mini calla lilies but it is not strong enough to hold larger ones. Once the spadix has dried, brush it with a very light coating of clear alcohol and roll it in corn meal - looks just like pollen, doesn't it? Let it dry a bit more.

Once both the petal and the spadix are dry, color your calla lily, if desired. To color your calla lilies, I find that petal dusts work the best. My favorite brand is Crystal Colors but there are many others out there. For this calla lily, I brushed "autumn blaze" orange on the edge of the petal and gently brushed it towards the bottom. Then, I brushed "forsythia" yellow up the center of the petal. I like to overlap my colors slightly so that the shades blend nicely on the finished flower. And don't forget to color the backs! I like the backs to have slightly subtler colors.

Then, apply a little clear alcohol (or use royal icing if you want the bond to be stronger) to the base of the spadix and insert it into the petal. Remember how you left a hole at the base of the petal? The toothpick holding the spadix should fit perfectly through that hole! Let these dry overnight again.

Next, you need to steam your flower to set the colors. I've seen this done in many ways: with a steam iron, with a clothes steamer, or simply over a pot of boiling water. However you choose to do it, the idea is to steam the flowers for just a few seconds. You'll notice that this slightly melts the color powders and will really blend your colors. After you've steamed the flowers, they need to dry for a few minutes - and then you're done!

FYI, I used "impatient pink" and "forsythia" yellow on the calla lilies in the sugar bridal bouquet. There are thousands of color shades out there so be creative!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Andy & Jessica's Sneak Peak!

On August 22, 2009, Andy and Jessica will tie the knot! Adam & I are looking forward to the wedding (I love weddings), and to make things even better, they've asked me to make their wedding and groom's cakes!

I will be recreating the flowers in Jessica's bouquet out of gum paste to put on the cake. She'll have green cymbidium orchids, lavender roses, lavender hydrangeas, and ivory gerbera daisies. Here is a small sampling of the flowers I made for them to proof:

I'm sure the wedding will be gorgeous! I'm excited!

An Autumnal Cake

It was another busy weekend! In addition to Ben's cake, I made another one for Deborah's Ph.D. graduation. Mazel tov, Deborah! Deborah asked me for a 3-tier autumn-colored cake so here's what I created:

The cakes from top to bottom were: white cake with strawberry buttercream, yellow cake with chocolate buttercream, and chocolate cake with raspberry buttercream. The whole cake was iced in chocolate buttercream and actually got a cool marbelized effect - which wasn't on purpose, but I like it! Then I decorated the cake with gum paste calla lilies, daisies, and roses.

Deborah had requested that the flower stems look like DNA double helices. And, while I like that idea, it really threw me for a loop! Normally, you don't see flower stems on a cake like how could I incorporate the stems without it looking weird or awkward? My first thought was to kind of wrap the stems around the back...but then the DNA is hidden so that wouldn't work. After a week of brainstorming, I finally decided to just join bunches of flowers with the DNA. This way, I didn't have to insert wires into the cake and the DNA was clearly visible!

Making Faces with Bronwen!

As I mentioned in my last post, I took a hands-on class with Bronwen Weber at the ICES Convention this year. The idea was to make 3 different faces out of 3 different sugar mediums. The first face was a little cartoon-y and made of marzipan (the yummy-smelling almond paste you can buy at the grocery store). The second face was made of fondant and was a little more realistic. I tried to make my second face a girl, which was difficult because Bronwen was only showing us male faces. They can both use some work, but here they are (male marzipan face on the left and female fondant face on the right):

The last face we were supposed to learn was one out of modeling chocolate. We ran out of time to do this in class, but here's Bronwen's example:

She dusted it with edible copper and gold luster dusts so it looks like a bronze statue. Pretty nice, huh?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Magic of Modeling Chocolate

Definitely the best thing I learned at the ICES convention this year was modeling chocolate (aka chocolate clay, chocolate plastic, chocolate leather, candy clay)! Many people are afraid of (or at least intimidated by) chocolate because it has to be tempered properly in order to use it.

Interestingly, chocolate's melting temperature is below human body temperature so as you consume it, bot the texture and the flavor change. This low melting temperature makes it easy to melt chocolate, but it is extremely susceptible to burning. The other major issue people experience while working with chocolate is seizing. If water comes into contact with the chocolate, the sugar and cacao absorb the moisture and cause the chocolate to clump, or seize. Once chocolate seizes, you can continue to add water or cream to create a chocolate syrup, but you will never be able to recover this chocolate to temper it.

The best way to melt chocolate is microwaving for a few seconds at a time (this works best if you break your chocolate into smaller pieces first) or using a double boiler. To make a double boiler, bring a pot of water to boil on the stove. Set a heat-proof bowl containing your chocolate on top, making sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. This method is more time intensive but less prone to burning.

When the melted chocolate cools, the cocoa butter creates crystal structures dependent on the temperature of the chocolate. If the chocolate cools at its own rate, the crystal structures are loose and the chocolate becomes dull, soft, and greasy. However, if you keep the chocolate at 88 degrees Fahrenheit (31 Celsius) while it cools, the chocolate forms dense crystals which are called seed crystals. If enough of these seed crystals are allowed to form, the chocolate will harden with a slight sheen and snap when bent after it completely cools. This tempering process gives the chocolate extra strength for things like flowers, sugar sculptures, and chocolate cups. It also prevents the cocoa butter from rising to the surface of the chocolate and creating unsightly discolorations. I won't go into the process of tempering chocolate here, but there are a lot of resources online if you just search for "tempering chocolate."

As a side note, candy melts (aka candy coating) that you can get in your local craft store do NOT contain cocoa butter so they do not need to be tempered.

In any event, I was among the masses of people intimidated by chocolate so I decided to take a few demos about it at this year's convention. What I discovered was the incredible ease and versatility of modeling chocolate! I will be playing around with some recipes this week so I'll post the ones I decide I like the best.

Anyway, I brought home some modeling chocolate from my hands-on classes with Bronwen Weber and B. Keith Ryder (see photos) so I played with it a bit. A LONG time ago, Shelby had asked me to make a cake for Ben's graduation - similar to the graduate hat cake, but this time with a rat in a lab coat next to it. I immediately decided to do the rat in modeling chocolate! Not only was it incredibly easy, but he smelled divine!

This is Ben's cake - an edible graduation hat sitting on top of a fondant dissertation (of course, Ben's is much thicker than this one!). The mortar board is decorated with neurons because one of Ben's neuronal images made the cover of a scientific journal! Yay! And don't forget our little chocolate murine friend!

Here's a close-up of the chocolate rat. I gave him a mowhawk because Ben had a blue mowhawk (that Shelby actually dyed for him) when Adam and I first met him. The thing on his ear is supposed to be an ear tag, which is a way some scientists identify their lab rats, but it looks more like an earing, doesn't it? I made the rat a little chubby since my lab studies obesity - he looks a lot like our rats but smells WAY better!

In Bronwen's class, we learned how to hand-model faces with marzipan, fondant, and modeling chocolate. I'll post the pictures of my faces soon, I promise!

And in Keith Ryder's class, we made a chocolate box. On the top of the box, we used chocolate transfer sheets (so fun yet so expensive, maybe I'll demo it later...) and topped it with modeling chocolate roses. He's holding my box in the picture.

Both classes were awesome, and I also attended a demonstration by Mike McCarey (you know him from the Food Network Challenge) about all the wonderful things you can do with modeling chocolate.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Shout Outs!

A few people in my life have recently been recognized for their superior effort at work so I thought I'd give them a quick shout out here too!

**Adam's company, Affiliated Engineers, was ranked 4th on the Building Design & Construction's 2009 Giants - Top 50 Engineering Firms Survey. All that engineering gobbeldy gook is way over my head so I can't explain what that means, I just know it's good! Way to go!

**Before Goody's closed its doors, my aunt Deborah Roche' was named The Associate of the 3rd Quarter! Amazing work!

**My mom, Sue Mitchell, a teacher in TX, was recognized as a district leader in elementary mathematics instruction. She was then chosen to be trained as a First Steps in Mathematics facilitator. This means that she'll be training and mentoring elementary school teachers in diagnosing what students think and know about mathematics, identifying what they need to learn, and choosing learning experiences to help them achieve the outcomes, including finding learning and developmental gaps and understanding how to fill those gaps. Wow, we need more dedicated teachers like you!

**My dad, Bob Mitchell, was recognized as Associate of the Month at JC Penney. The following was written about him (slightly edited to make sense to all of us non-JCP employees):

(Bob's the one holding the certificate.)

"Bob, Sr. Allocator, came to the rescue when an Allocator needed help in processing her first new item. This was the first time for this Allocator to use this new program. Not to mention that this new item was a 'Power Item' and the vendor was new [also]. This Allocator felt the odds were against her when she started this project.

Bob rallied when this Allocator came to him for help! He walked her through the best practices. Bob followed up with this Allocator for updates and jumped in to help with all her questions. On Monday mornings he sought out to make sure the report was in line with [company] estimates. Despite his busy daily schedule he found time to attend this Allocator's vendor meetings and provided support with the vendor's questions regarding the process.

In addition to being a great coach, Bob is a great team member. He asks thoughtful questions and offers insightful comments during weekly allocation meetings. He is known throughout the Home team as a 'go to' person for answers. Bob learns all he can about the retail business in the Home Division.

Bob is truly deserving of the Associate of the Month title. He is a leader of excellence!"

Monday, August 3, 2009

Cancer Vixen Winner!

Congrats to Shirley for winning the book Cancer Vixen!

I'm home from the ICES Convention and it was AWESOME! I was so busy running from demonstration to volunteering post to demonstration to the vendor room (I just HAD to spend some money on the latest cake decorating tools) that I rarely had time to eat. Yikes! Luckily, the theme was "Sweet Time in '09" so there was plenty of candy and cake around. Not great for the waist line, but perfect for that much-needed boost of energy! Update: My sugar bouquet made it in one piece - only one small petal was damaged but it was barely noticeable. Stay tuned for a few of my favorite photos from the convention. I took about 450 photos, but I won't subject you to all that!

As a side note, as much as I liked my previous pink and brown blog template, too many people were having trouble leaving comments. I'm going back to the original - after all, why mess with something that isn't broken, right?!