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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My April 16th

Just like everyone else, I remember it so well.

The day started when I decided to skip an AM class to study for a test. One roommate, D, had stayed home to wash her hair. Yeah - we should have been on campus.

Then it started. Someone had been shot. In a dorm room. It was on the news and we got a call from D's dad. We told him we were okay. I called both my parents - they hadn't heard anything about it yet so I was fortunate to tell them I was fine before the chaos broke loose.

We kept the news on as I continued to study, but something was wrong. The number on the bottom of the screen kept increasing. The body count was increasing. People were dying, on my campus. Our phones were ringing off the hook, text messages coming in. Everyone all over the nation had heard about the shooting on our campus and wanted to know how we were. People I barely talked to in high school, friends of my parents, friends of friends. Then it went international. All of my camp friends from across the pond were trying to find out if I was okay. Thanks goodness for Facebook, you know? Because eventually calls and texts would no longer go through. We finally got a hold of our other two roommates and both came home safely. Around me was pandemonium and I had to stay strong. I was the only one in the house who had ever dealt with death, with tragedy. D's dad ordered pizza so we didn't have to leave the apartment. Her Aunt called and prayed with us over the phone. We were okay for now and I kept it together for all of us.

Then I heard the worst sound I've ever heard. It was a wail, a sob, a scream. All day my roommate J was looking for her best friend. She had received the call that Caitlin had been shot and passed away. Immediately I went to try and comfort J but what do you in a time like this? They were both from NY and had signed a lease together for the next school year. I watched as one of my best friend's life crumpled around her. J started calling all of her friends to tell what had happened. As I heard her say over and over "Caitlin is dead" - wailing into the phone, I was completely heart broken. I tried to help make the calls. J's boyfriend tried to help make the calls. The school opened up rooms at the Inn dedicated to the students who had been killed or wounded. I drove J and her boyfriend to the room designated for Caitlin and we sat there for hours with family and friends, telling stories of Caitlin's great heart, her smile, her love and passion. We sat there grieving together. All night, I stayed strong.

Of course at this point Virginia Tech cancelled classes for the rest of the week. We went back home and mourned together the death of our 32 Hokies - amazing people with incredible stories. I stroked D's hair as she wept in my lap. I tried my best to make arrangements for anything J needed. Mostly we hugged each other and kept each other close. Again, I stayed strong.

I stayed strong until I couldn't handle it anymore. I stayed strong until I realized I needed to be able process everything my own way. We had the convocation inside the Cassell Coliseum. I went with my family - D and my cousin and his friends who had also become family over those couple of years we spent together. When it was over I told them I wanted to walk home. I needed to be by myself for the two miles back to the apartment. I hadn't made it past the stadium when J called me. She heard I was walking home and couldn't bare it. She was so afraid for me to be on my own that she insisted they come pick me up. Of course, I said okay.

It had been two days since the massacre. I was sitting on the porch when I called my mom. I needed to come home. My parents immediately got in the car, along with my Godmother, and came to pick me up. On the way home we stopped for gas and I went in to use the bathroom. When my dad saw me trying to watch the news, he ushered me back out. We stopped to eat at a McDonald's. My mom said they knew I would want to come home but waited until I was ready to say so. While eating I let a few tears roll down my face - the first ones I had really shed since it began. I pushed them away. I stayed strong.

I returned to school the following week. I finished some of my classes - others I couldn't focus on. I came home after the semester ended and I thought life was getting back to normal. I felt off all summer. It was the beginning of August when I finally broke. I had forgotten a child's inhaler and we had a minor incident at camp. Everyone was fine but I was so distraught because I knew that I had not been on top of my game. I went into a bathroom and wept. For the first time since that day, I wept. I cried until I couldn't cry any more. Then I wrote down everything I remembered from that day and I kept it with me. Then I pulled myself together, went into the world, and I stayed strong.

This was the toughest experience I've ever gone through. Every year it has gotten a little bit better and this year I finally feel ready to tell my story. I continue to work hard and be the best person I can be. We have to live for 32. We will neVer forgeT. We will prevail. We are Virginia Tech.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Gifts to Get Fit (or Start Your Resolution Now)

Tomorrow is the first of December, which means everyone will be in the gift giving spirit. Well, maybe not everyone, but everyone I know. I LOVE to give people gifts. If I had all the money in the world, I would just spend it all on gifts for loved ones. I also love to give gifts to myself. So I'd spend it on gifts for all my loved ones - including myself. I mean, I'm special and important too, right?

After you stuff yourself on Thanksgiving leftovers this week, then transition to candy canes, breads from coworkers, candy, cocktails and Christmas cookies, most people find themselves in a 3 day regret binge with a determination to make the change in the new year. I feel safe to assume that most New Years resolutions fall under the exercise/lose weight/get healthy umbrella. If you are serious about getting fit - for whatever reason - I feel like January 1st is the worst day to start. Start now.With gift giving season upon us, I want to help you with some tips to help you give up the excuses and get in shape. Now, if anybody asks what you want, you can tell them your goals and give them some good gift ideas.

Excuse One: I don't have the money to get what I need.
Why it's not an excuse: Running and walking are relatively inexpensive hobbies to pick up. As are swimming and tennis. Asking for gifts to get started helps you feel less guilty about spending the money on yourself.
What to ask for: Gift Cards. Not just any gift cards, though, because if you're like me a Visa gift card ends up going towards gas or groceries. Dicks Sporting Goods is a great gift card to ask for because you WILL end up getting some sort of sporting equipment. They have clothes, shoes (good shoes are an absolute must - ask to be fitted!), watches, rackets, swim wear - everything you need to start your new hobby. Plus, you'll likely be investing in some quality gear, which while it may be a little more expensive than workout gear at other retailers, this stuff will last if you take care of it.

Excuse Two: My thighs rub when I work out.
Why it's not an excuse: You don't have to wear shorts to work out in!
What to ask for: If a spouse, a parent, or someone close to you wants to give you a gift, tell them your size and ask for 7" compression shorts. I get some serious chub rub if I try to wear shorts and I hate it! I use to try running out for a day or two and then I could cry in pain. I found out that not all shorts have to be tiny. I have a great pair of Under Armour 7" shorts that come down just far enough to cover the "danger zone." These Nike shorts are only $22! I can't speak to them because I don't own them, but longer shorts are great for running indoors and outside during the warmer months. Also, if you are concerned about modesty or a butt you're not (yet) proud of, you can throw on running shorts over top of compression shorts.

Excuse Three: It's too cold out and I don't have money for a gym.
Why it's not an excuse: Running and walking can be done for FREE, even in winter.
What to ask for: Cold Gear Pants and a long-sleeve compression shirt. Pants should taper in at the ankles to keep them warm. Look for specific cold-gear because they will have an inside layer to keep you warmer than summer running pants. Again, compression gear can always be worn underneath other clothes if you want or need. Learn about moisture-wicking fabrics so you can be specific. Compression clothing doesn't have to be expensive. Reebok, Adidas, Under Armour, Nike - they all have gear. Right now, there are tons of sales so now is the time to look. Also, a nice light but warm jacket is a great idea. I just got an Old Navy Half-Zip Fleece for $8. What a steal!! I add some gloves, a scarf around my mouth/nose so I'm not breathing in the cold, dry air, and a hat. This way I can still be outside during the winter.

Excuse Four: I don't know how far to run or how long to run for.
Why it's not an excuse: There's an app for that! (Also, distance and time don't matter - just do it!)
What to ask for:
Option one: an arm-band for your phone or iPod. Also, a phone or an iPod if you don't have one. Music is great for getting out of your own head when running, but you don't want to carry it in your hand because it will affect how you move your muscles. Put it on your arm and leave it there. I love the Map My Run app, but there are countless others.
Option two: Nike+. My younger brother got this for me a few years ago and I love it. You tie a sensor to your shoe and sync it with your iPod. It will map distance, time, pace, etc. You can choose to run for a certain distance, a certain time, or just to start running and let it record you. A voice will come through in your iPod to tell you every half-mile or when you're halfway to your goal. They also congratulate you at the end of a new personal record (PR). It does include Lance Armstrong, or at least mine does, so if you are against him personally this might not be for you.
You can enter goals. You can be a part of an online community with challenges to keep you going. You give feedback on runs and how you felt about them. This was so much fun to keep me going when I first started running and I still use it today.
Option three: A sport watch. These can be pretty cheap and you don't need anything fancy. Ask for one that has laps and can set intervals. This is awesome for anyone that wants to start out. You can program it to beep in three minutes and then one minute later, three minutes and then one - perfect for interval running.

Excuse Five: I don't want to / can't be out without keys, ID, etc.
Why it's not an excuse: There are always options!
What to ask for: If you have to drive somewhere to run, many pants have a key-pocket. Sometimes, if I'm at a hotel or literally running to the store, I need a place to store extra things like ID, room keys, credit card or whatver. I love, Love, LOVE my Miche hip bag. Although it's not the intentional use, I wear mine like a fanny pack (although mine has a much thicker strap than the one pictured). It's the perfect size to fit in the small of my back and the strap is adjustable so I can make it very secure on my hips. It's a stylish alternative to a fanny pack and it fits my phone (Galaxy), keys, cards, etc. It takes the worry out of being out alone. Ask for one, or go out shopping with a girlfriend and find something similar.

My gift lists have included things like swim cap and goggles, light barbells, a DVD gift set (hello Yoga Booty Ballet!), resistance bands, a yoga mat - anything that helps me get in shape without feeling like I'm spending a ton of money on myself. These are truly gifts that keep on giving. You'll feel guilty if you don't use them, so you'll have more reason to get out there and go! Oh, you might also ask for a few SpaFinder gift certificates (or one to a favorite spa if you have one). Those new-workout-muscle pains are tough to get around. Stick to this new you from Dec 26th-Jan 15th (or any 2- to 5- week goal) and then treat yourself to a lovely massage :)

What are some of your favorite workout gifts?


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Merry Christmas

I know I'm early, but since I haven't posted in months and I don't know if I will again in the next week, I thought I would just say it now. If I have free time I would like to update my other blog that is supposed to be about teaching math. It's been quite neglected. So here's a picture of something I made for my Secret Santa at school. It is brownies stacked on top of each other with candy melt colors. Enjoy everything the season brings to you!


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Something's Gotta Give

I don't always feel like I give everything I can to my career and it upsets me. It's because I tend to work 2 to 3 jobs at a time and I just don't always have the time or energy to make every lesson amazing and grade everything the day it gets turned in. But I have to do what I have to do.

Anyway, sometimes something's gotta give. This past month it's been running and blogging. Both have to take a backseat to everything else. It just has to be done. I have so many posts to write and ideas to share though that I can't wait to have some free time to do it!

Until next time....

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fondant Star Gazer Tutorial

These stargazers are so beautiful and I really enjoy making them. Note, if you plan to use them on a cake, start making them AT LEAST a week ahead of time. You will need time for them to dry completely and harden. Then you need time to dust them (or paint if that's you're thing) and assemble, which also takes some time.

 You'll want to mix your fondant with gum paste so it's about a 50/50 mix. It hardens a bit (which your fondant alone wouldn't) and it doesn't dry so quickly that you have to rush to work with it (which would be gum paste alone). Stargazers come in so many different colors so feel free to be creative!

*Doing this project is a lot like doing math. It's long, it's involved, it's even tedious, but it's not hard*

In addition to your fondant/gum paste mix, you'll need a dusting pouch filled with a 50/50 mix of cornstarch and powdered sugar. You will need some gum glue, made by breaking up a pea size of gum paste into about a tablespoon of water and letting it dissolve. You will need a rolling pin and yes, I really do suggest Wilton's plastic rolling pins for ease of use. There's no problem not using one, just make sure it stays covered with your "dust". You will need wave former cups (or, heck, find anything round you can shape them over), the wide and narrow lily petal cutters, a petal impression mat, a round ball tool and veining tool, thin foam, floral wire and florist tape (6 pieces of white 26-gauge wire for the petals and one piece of green 20-gauge wire for the stem - you'll need 3 more pieces of green 26-gauge wire for leaves), Color Dust in deep pink, lime green and dark green as well as brushes with which to apply them.

Dust the BACK of your impression mat with your dusting pouch.
Roll out a small ball of gum paste / fondant.

 Shape that ball into a log and position it over the slit in the back. Make sure about 1/2" of the log is not on the crack.

Use your rolling pin to roll out the fondant. It should be less than 1/16 of an inch thick which means thinner than your pink rings if you're using the Wilton small fondant roller or just really thin if you're not using a rolling pin with guide rings.

Peel this off of the mat and use your narrow lily cutter to cut the shape of the petal. Position it so the tip of the petal does not have that extra stem piece.

Dip your white 26 gauge wire into gum glue and place it next to this flap. Fold the fondant over the wire to secure them together. This is the back-side of the petal.

Dust the front side of your impression mat. Place the petal front-side down onto the leaf impressions. Use your thin foam to press (with this mat from the student kit it will take quite a bit of pressure. They do make better mats that don't come in the student kit.) the petal into the impression mat. You should be able to see the impressions, but they will really stand out once we use the color dust after they have dried.

Transfer your petal onto the thin foam. Dust your ball tool and use this to ruffle the edges. There are many techniques for ruffeling. You can put most of the ball tool on the foam and a little on the petal and slide it (not roll it) around the petal with some pressure. You could scratch back and forth as if you were coloring. You could also put most of the ball tool inside the petal's edge and and roll it around. Practice, practice practice and you will find the way that works for you.

After you have it nice and ruffled, put it over the wave former cup to dry completely. This will take at least a full day. When you put your petals on there, put them at different angles. Remember the petals on flowers aren't all the same!

For each lily, you will need 3 narrow petals and 3 wide petals. I don't have pictures of making the leaves, but the process is exactly the same. You use green fondant and need 3 narrow lily cuts for each flower.

After everything is very, very and completely dry, you get to start decorating and putting them together!

Put a line of of deep pink Color Dust down the center of the petal.

You don't need much. Spread it out. Go out and look at some Stargazers: some have a lot of color and some have a little color. Tiger Lillies are really bright. Be creative!

Put some lime gream down near the stem of the petal.

Color all of your petals. I wanted to try the painting technique as well, so I mixed a little bit of color dust with a little bit of vodka. Using alcohol is better because - of how tacky it gets? I don't remember the exact reason, but the alcohol dries off so don't worry about that part. Plus, who is really going to eat these anyway?

Prepare your stamens. They come taped in groups but you'll want to remove the white tape and then use florist tape to attach them to a piece of 20 gauge green wire.

Wrap all the way down, pulling tightly to release the stickiness of the florist tape.

Then use the same process of wrapping over and over to attach each petal, one at a time.

Start with the three wide leaves.

Then add the the narrow leaves between them.

Each time, you are wrapping all the way down the stem. A thick stem will be helpful when you go to put the flower into the stem holders to put them in the cake.

Finally, brush the three green leaves with a mixture of lime and dark green. Add the three green leaves, one at a time, to the stem about halfway down.

There you have a finished stargazer lily! You can see some stargazers in action in this cake from the final class in Wilton Course 4: Advanced Fondant and Gum Paste

I linked up!
Days of Chalk and ChocolateThe Mandatory Mooch

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Full Circle

Aaaand I've come full circle! I told my boss at Food Lion that I was quitting (jokingly) because I just made a 90th birthday cake, half sheet, with roses.

Well as it just so happened, this was the first cake I ever made at the store. I had to do it the day after I learned how to do roses, after just a few hours of cake decorating lessons. I was pretty happy with how it turned out:

I figured since I had come full circle, I should probably just quit.

If you didn't know, I've also started teaching cake decorating classes for Wilton. Here is the cake I made with the Course 1: Basics class. I taught them to level cakes, fill, ice, and transfer a picture. I did this cake so I could bring it in to school. IN TO SCHOOL! Can you believe I've already started back? My first day was Aug 6 and the kids come the 16th. We've been in meetings all day, working in my classroom all evening, and lesson planning all night. It's been exhausting!

 But, at least there was cake :) A lemon cake with strawberry filling. Yum.

I linked up!
 The Mandatory Mooch

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Novice Baking Rules

I think I am about to change my title from novice baker to intermediate baker. I am nowhere near experienced and can only hope to one day become a master, but for now, I think I have moved on to the next level.

I would like to share some "baking rules" for all the other novice bakers out there. Things that maybe you didn't know you were supposed to do because I definitely didn't when I first started.

(Interested in the red velvet cake pictured? Read about it here)

First: Learn the jargon. I watched tons of YouTube videos to learn the proper way to cream butter and sugar (mix your butter by itself until nice and fluffy and then add in the sugar. Believe me it is easier this way.), how to beat egg whites until stiff, how to fold in said egg whites (L helped me with this one), and alternate your ingredients. I always way over complicated that last one - it just means 1/3 of your dry ingredients, 1/2 the wet, 1/3 dry, 1/2 the wet, 1/3 dry. See? Easy.

Second: All of your ingredients should be room temperature. Yes, this sometimes means letting your milk and eggs sit out for HOURS but that's fine. They won't spoil, believe me. I've left them out over night or all day while I'm working, which usually means up to 10 hours of warming up. If you don't have that much time, get them as close as possible but don't use your microwave. Break eggs and put them in a cup or at least take them out of the carton. Measure out your milk - a half-cup warms up much quicker than a half-gallon. Slice up your butter - the more surface area exposed the quicker it will come to temperature. Do this even for box mixes.

Third: Sift. Sift! SIFT! Whether scratch baking or using a mix, you'll want to sift all of your dry ingredients together. Even if you're using pre-sifted flour, sift it. I usually sift my flour into a bowl first, then measure out the amount that I need. Then I sift all my other ingredients, whisk them around, and sift them at least one more time. You'll want to sift them after they've been combined. It makes everything much lighter and fluffier. Do this even for box mixes.

Fourth: Try to avoid over/under baking, but also avoid opening your oven much during baking, especially during the first half of your bake time. Of course this just comes with much practice but it will help keep your cakes from sinking. To help with this, preheat your oven after measuring all of your ingredients. If it beeps while you are mixing, turn it off! Then wait until you are filling your pans to re-preheat. Doing this ensures that you are putting your cake in the oven when it is at 350 degrees, not 350 or 360.

Fifth: Once your cake comes out of the oven, give them 10 minutes to cool before flipping. If I end up with a cake with a dome on top, I flip mine face down on a plate and then reinvert them face up, on parchment paper, on my cooling rack. If they have a dome, resting on it can cause your otherwise would be flat bottom to sink or crack. Using parchment paper on your cooling rack will prevent your cake from having lines across it: this is a cake and not a steak, after all.

Speaking of domes,  I HIGHLY reccommend spending money (although it's not much) on baking strips. You can read here why I think this.

After you have flipped them, you can freeze them directly if that is your plan, or leave them out to cool, but you don't have to cool them completely before freezing. And yes, freezing is fine for cakes and does not hurt them. Of course if you leave them in there for days they will not be day one fresh, but they will still be good.

Sixth: Before you stack and decorate, you will need to level your cake. You can do this with a bread knife or, my favorite, a cake leveler from the store. These are inexpensive, easy to use and work really well. This gives you a blank canvas on which to begin your art.

Alright newbies, I hope these tips help you! I'll post some more tips later on the basics of filling a cake/cupcakes, how to get smooth icing, and some other decorating basics (read decorating cheats).

 Bake on, cakers.