Monday, July 2, 2012


It was 5:45 on Saturday morning. The dining room light was on although the sun had already started seeping in through the slates on the living room blinds. Rick was bent over the table dressed in a pair of summer weight sweats and a t-shirt he had worn to bed the night before. In front of him were a bunch of 8 1/2 by 11 card stock sheets each with a single outlined letter or a symbol he had pulled off the internet. With his best Tom Sawyer smile he beckoned me and in a whispered voice told me this was the banner we were going to make for Emmy's sweet sixteen birthday party, the one with the family, the one where she rakes in the money for the rest of her birthday adventure.
Dozens of markers in a rainbow of colors were strewn over the table. Emmy is very proficient and creative when it comes to graphic bubble lettering. Rick wanted to surprise her by trying to mimic her talent on these birthday letters, so there we sat at six in the morning drawing circles, and stripes and plaids on S's, and E's and peace symbols. The process was simple but time consuming. Rick found the letters and symbols online at You can print them off from your computer, just remember to use card stock otherwise the pages are going to be too flimsy. Let your imagination be your guide in coloring them.
The printouts come with text running on the top and bottom of the page. You'll need to cut this off. We did a measured approach and then used a wave cutting scissors for the top and a handy Martha Stewart stencil cutter for the bottom. These are great craft tools to have around. They're a bit pricey but if you can use them more than once they end up paying for themselves. We then had a very large hole puncher that we used to put holes at the top of each page for the ribbon. Rick has collected vintage ribbon for years. We used a wide multi-striped satin ribbon that we twisted and knotted as we threaded it through the letters. You could use any size ribbon but make sure that the hole you punch is in proportionate to the ribbon.
You also need to thread as much ribbon as you are going to need through the first hole. Once you've started threading it's very hard to go back and pull more ribbon if you find yourself short on ribbon. If you already have the tools this is a relatively inexpensive decoration that most kids will want to save because you made it for them. If you don't have Martha's stencil cutter or a wave scissors you can get very creative with a regular scissors and still be very proud of your work. Now for the flowers

We've promoted this so many times many of you may be tired of hearing it but the Madison Farmers Market is a spectacular venue for flowers. Rick has always been the flower man. His vision this year was to go wild and colorful and that's exactly where he went. We filled antique ironstone pitchers with pineapple buds, daisies and multi-colored wildflowers. The petals were already falling and that only added to the beauty of the room.

Every year since Emmy was two Rick has made the same cake for Emmy's birthday and every year a new story is added to the memoir of her birthday cake history. This is chapter 16. The cake is a Martha Stewart recipe. It's a rich moist devil's food cake made from scratch with a creamy frosting Martha calls Mrs. Milman's chocolate frosting named after the woman who created it, Lois Milman. It's a complicated recipe made from  simple ingredients: Nestle's semi-sweet morsels, light corn syrup and whipping cream. The complicated part comes in the time it takes to make it.
The first year Rick made the cake he had Emmy's nanny, Angelina, go out to do the shopping. This wasn't an unusual request. Our New York schedule frequently left us without enough time to do the grocery shopping and Angelina loved food. The only problem was English was definitely a second language for Angelina. It was hours before Angelina returned and when she did she came back completely distraught without the ingredients for the frosting. "I went to six different stores and no one had Mrs. Milman's frosting. I am so sorry Rick." Mrs. Milman only wishes she had her own brand of frosting out there on America's grocery shelves.
This year's twist has Rick directing the making and baking of the three layers of the cake from a prone position on the couch as he healed from a double hernia operation. I was the designated baker and that was a major risk but when the master chef is one as talented as Rick the risk is a bit minimized. It was nice to have this year's sweet treat be a combined effort from both her parents.
The relatives arrived and envelopes filled with VISA gift cards and twenty dollar bills started stacking up on the patio cloth covered central ottoman. We grilled burgers, chicken and the mandatory Wisconsin brats. Rick added a corn, tomato, mayo and avocado salad and the meal was complete. For most people this birthday party would have been enough.

To be continued...

Jessie Evans-Whinery, homesteader, with her wife Edith Evans-Whinery and their baby, 2010
Debbie Grossman, photographer
Represented by Julie Saul Gallery, New York

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