I have severe fondant envy. Despite having no skills whatsoever in the kitchen, I spend hour upon hour watching the various cake shows on cable, from the extreme decorating challenges to Ace of Cakes to Amazing Wedding Cakes. And so I signed myself  up for a “Fun with Fondant” class with dreams of one day being able to create a Taj Mahal (or some other noteworthy landmark) out of yellow cake, food coloring and fondant). Hoping for the best (i.e., a masterpiece worthy of Kerry Vincent’s lukewarm praise) but expecting the worst (i.e., a lopsided, wrinkled disaster that would cause me to incur Ms. Vincent’s withering gaze), I set about creating my work of art.

I started having trouble well before we even pulled out the dough-like icing for which the class was named. I just could not get my cake level. I shaved off more and more, only to end up with a severely sloping golden lump of a cake. The instructor – Judy, the owner of pieceocakenyc.com—tried to save me from myself, suggesting that I wait until the butter cream application to level it out. Little did she know how utterly butter cream-challenged I was. She soon learned, witnessing me lump and gouge my way through the second butter cream layer. She ultimately got me through (Judy’s great tip: dip your offset spatula into hot water intermittently when spreading the final coat of butter cream to make the butter cream layers smoother!) and I was ready to work on the kneading and rolling of the fondant. I kneaded and rolled and kneaded and rolled until I had the right size to life up and put on the cake. And so I did…only, much to my dismay I had worked the fondant so much that it looked as crepey as the skin of an octogenarian. I did my best to smooth it out with my hand but realized that I would really just need to work with it. So I did just that, using the lumps and bumps to create a “Winter Wonderland” cake, replete with snowdrifts and a red scarf-clad, carrot-nosed snowman.

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Misanthrope cabbie
Missed chance to kill senator
Saved girl, named hero.

Vagabond strongman
Cruel to his simple helper
Sees true bond too late

Death-obsessed young man
Meets eighty-something pistol
Learns to love her, life.

IMG_4172Standing at the bottom of the very tall metal ladder, I questioned what I had gotten myself into. I began to climb. The ladder shook as I went higher and higher, doing nothing to give me any more confidence about what was going to happen next. When I reached the platform for the first time, I rather inelegantly climbed over the top of the ladder and crawled onto the platform on all fours.

As I clutched on to the handrails, the “catcher” unhooked the clips for the ladder ropes from my harness and clipped on the flying ropes. He directed me to step right to the edge of the platform. He grabbed the back of my harness belt and instructed me to push my hips all the way forward and grab the trapeze bar. As I did what he said, my nerves, just for a split second, almost got the better of me. But, I pushed through, grabbed the bar with my left hand and bent my knees to get into the “ready” position. As the command “Hep!” floated up from the ground, I jumped off and was suddenly swinging at high speed through the air.

“Knees up!” was the next command, in answer to which I pulled my knees up to my chest, put my feet over the bar and tucked the bar tightly behind my knees. “Hands down!” said the instructor and suddenly I was hanging upside down, swinging freely. Exhilarated, I dismounted as per the instructions and headed back up to try it again.

The second time around the dismount included a backflip, which was relatively easy due to the momentum of the swing. I was thinking to myself how easy it all was….and I got a bit too confident.

The next time, I failed to properly secure the bar behind my knees and slipped off when I released my hands. No harm was done, although I did fall rather gracelessly into the big bouncy net below.

The last time up was the “catch”, where from the upside-down position, I was to reach out to the instructor on the “catch” trapeze bar and swing with him away. I didn’t think at all. I just listened to the commands – “Ready!” Hep!” Knees Up!” “Hands Down!” “Reach out!” and there I was hanging down with the instructor’s strong grip holding me tightly around my forearms.

As I dropped back down to the net below and did the somersault off, I knew that wouldn’t be the last time that I would be flying through the air. I’ll shoot for “the greatest of ease” next time!

(originally published on theglasshammer.com)

In my opinion, the best documentary films are compelling because they allow a glimpse of otherwise inaccessible lives and lifestyles. Think of some well-known documentaries and the stories they tell: the journey of the son of a famous yet enigmatic architect trying to piece together the story of his father’s double life  (My Architect); the struggle of quadriplegic young men and their quest for the wheelchair rugby Paralympics gold (Murderball); the differing expectations and, ultimately, life paths of upper and working class Brits over the course of 40+ years (The Up Series); the determination and quirkiness of a group of humans so intent on winning a new 4X4 truck that they ignore basic physical needs and stand for days in the heat hanging onto the vehicle as if for dear life (Hands on a Hard Body).

The truth is that I’ve been collecting subjects and planning out documentary films in my head for years. Maybe other people do this; however, I think it’s particularly odd because I am an energy/international business transactions attorney by training, who, until about a year ago, had no knowledge of how to actually make films.
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Well, I made it through the week relatively unscathed and completely without television. I wish I could say that I had some great epiphany or accomplished some great task, but I didn’t.

How did I fill the void that television left in my life? I surfed the internet like crazy; I listened to the radio; and I even played several games of backgammon (I had to look up the rules and set up since it had been so long since I last played). I did see two movies from the “Films to See” listThe Deer Hunter and 2001: A Space Odyssey-and read 1 1/2 books off of the Books List-Stumbling on Happiness and The Year of Living Biblically. But, in filling up all that spare time, I didn’t really accomplish as many things off The List as I would have hoped. And, I’m not really sure I learned anything except that I can actually live without television-and not miss it horribly once I pass through the initial withdrawal.

Shall I try for two? Nah, I really would like to catch up with Oprah, Jackie B., and all my other buddies to see what they’ve been up to for the past week.