I know. I know. You don't have to say it. I am extremely overdue for an update. The truth of the matter is that I didn't even finish telling you about the end of my fall semester, so I guess that's as good as any place to start.
My Advanced Cake Decorating Class wrapped up with a final practical exam. My assigned task was to build, ice, and decorate a three-layer cake, in the shape of an 8" octagon, and then complete the required decorating. Icing it proved to be my biggest challenge of the day, in order to get the sides straight, but all in all, I did well and ended up with pretty good results. It was a three-layer vanilla genoise, with vanilla buttercream, chocolate piping, and marzipan carnations.
My Retail Bakeshop class culminated in a final project and presentation, where my friend Gilly and I presented our business concept for a farmers market stand called "it's a Whoopie!" We developed a business plan where we would sell a variety of sweet and savory whoopie pies at the local downtown farmers market. I utilized knowledge from my online classes - Small Business Management and Small Business Operations - to inform our work for our Retail Project. For our final presentation, Chef encouraged us to set up a 10' x 10' tent, just like we would at the farmers market, so we did. Our display highlighted one of our fall menus. We provided samples of our classic chocolate whoopie pie with marshmallow filling, our pecan-maple whoopie pie with butterscotch filling, and our cornbread whoopie pie with cream cheese, chives, and bacon. Compliments to Gilly, here are photos of hers that show our presentation stand. And special thanks to my friend, Emily, for her creation of our logo.
All in all, this was perhaps the most exciting class project I have had the opportunity to work on in all of my years of higher education. The project was invaluable, and further stressed my interest in running a business some day. I enjoyed the many, many hours we spent pondering ideas and putting the pieces of a business together. More on that later.
My Introduction to Wine class wrapped up with a final exam, project and presentation. For my project and presentation, I chose to use my Italian-themed desserts menu from my Plated Desserts Course which I took in the summer, and find Italian wine pairings for each of the desserts on my menu. I learned a great deal about Italian wine by pursuing this project, and I learned just as much about wine and dessert pairings. It was a great learning exercise as well.
My online classes wrapped up with final exams and final assignments. Nothing major here in terms of the workload, but both of these Small Business Management courses taught me a great deal about considerations for a future business plan.
After all of that hard work in finishing the semester, I spent three glorious weeks at home in Mount Carmel, PA, spending time with family and friends and baking a great deal for our holiday gatherings. It was a rewarding and enjoyable holiday season for me, and I felt blessed to share so many memories with family and friends at home.
I eased my way into 2012, mainly because my mom drove back to Charleston with me, and stayed for a few days. She spoiled me with a great little stay-cation. We hung out, walked the beach, took a tour of downtown, and ate like champs. When she boarded the plane for PA, I had to snap out of my month-long vacation, and begin preparations for my new year with my new priorities and new changes.
I learned some valuable lessons in 2011, and I faced some harsh realities. While I was enjoying my time in baking and pastry school and enjoying pursuing a passion of mine, I was struggling to put the other pieces of my life together in a way that allowed me to be truly happy. This is a struggle I faced throughout most of my 20s - trying to prioritize and balance work/school with my other passions while having the time to do the things I love. Perhaps it was turning 30 in October or perhaps it was seeing my savings account dwindle month after month. But I ultimately decided I needed to re-prioritize and make some different decisions. I didn't want to continue to make sacrifices for the wrong reasons, and I didn't want to keep missing out on the things I love outside of school - mainly, taking advantage of events, travel, dinners with friends, and the like.
The first priority is financial because without the financial support to live my life the way I want to, everything else falls by the wayside. I made the tough choice of leaving my job at the gelato store to accept a position with the Medical University of South Carolina, MUSC. In essence, I recalled my roots in education to take on a role as trainer. I have been working with a team of about 75 people since mid-January; we were trained and credentialed in a program called Epic, which is electronic medical record software used worldwide. And starting this past week, we began training physicians, nurses, and other staff on using this system, which will roll out for MUSC later in the spring. Financially, this gives me a salary that is more than twice as much as I made hourly in 2011, so that's a huge step in the right direction for getting my finances where I want them to be. Professionally, it has been wonderful for networking and development. I work with an amazing group of trainers, each with a unique history and background. And the few training sessions I have had so far have reinforced my love of education and my love of the teaching and learning process. This job has furthered reinforced that the educational world is one in which I feel confident, skilled, and knowledgeable. While this position is currently temporary through the end of June, the work I have already done has been invaluable to me, and I am confident it has helped set me up for a variety of professional options in the future. I'm not one to make long-term plans, of course, but I feel that this opportunity has already paid off for me, and will continue to do so in many, many ways.
With this new professional opportunity and priority of my finances, though, came the tough decision to walk away from my remaining baking and pastry classes. Due to scheduling, I wasn't able to enroll in any baking classes this semester. I only have three remaining courses to take, and I do hope to be able to take them at some point, but those pieces will have to fall into place when the timing is right. Do I miss baking on a regular basis? Sure, I do, but I honestly don't miss it enough to feel heart-broken about my choice. I miss my friends in school and the camaraderie of taking classes together more than the actual classroom baking, so I think that realization is a valuable lesson as well. I do occasionally bake at home, and my colleagues seem to enjoy my creations, so the baking hasn't completely fallen by the wayside. And in December, I did complete the coursework for a Certificate in Baking/Pastry so I do have one of the two certificates under my belt. As I said, I have three courses to go so we'll just have to wait and see if I'm able to finish school the way I originally intended.
I am taking a Beer Basics course and learning tons of fascinating information about beer and beer styles, so I do feel at least partially connected to school. Learning about beer and food pairings not only gives me more knowledge, but it makes my dining and drinking plans much more purposeful. Like last semester's wine course, I couldn't be more thrilled about this learning and its influence on my daily habits.
Toward the end of January, Gilly and I pursued our "it's a Whoopie!" business plan endeavor, and applied for a stand at the downtown farmers market. We were not accepted, which was ultimately disappointing. I'm proud of us for attempting to launch our small, small business. But I know now that this isn't the right time for me to pursue this type of opportunity. I need to continue focusing on putting the pieces together in all areas of my life, before I can dedicate the needed resources - both financial and emotional - into a business endeavor on the side.
The other main priority for me is trying to build a full life here in Charleston, that makes me generally happy on a regular basis. And I feel like I am taking steps in the right direction. The financial boost helps. But I truly love this city - the people, the history, the opportunities, the food - and I want to build a life here for at least a few more years. In order to do so, I have to feel that I am taking advantage of what Charleston offers, and lately that has meant being proactive about getting together with the people I love, taking advantage of great local events (like the recent oyster roast and beer festival), not feeling guilty when I treat myself to one of Charleston's culinary delights, and making actual travel plans to see old friends and experience new places.
The first two months of 2012 have brought major changes into my life, but I am really happy about how things are currently. I feel good about my choices and how I'm spending my time. I feel positive, energetic and enthusiastic. And overall, I feel that no matter what challenge is placed before me, I have the love and support to pursue my life the way I need to, the way I want to, and that certainly gives me the drive to live the life set before me. I'm not sure what the remainder of 2012 holds, but I am sure that if it's anything like the first two months, it's going to be a great year.