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Around the bakery with Lily these days

 

Lily has been such a trooper coming to work with me as much as she does. On paper it’s super adorable that she gets to grow up in a cake shop, but in practice it’s different every single day. Some days are great and she’s happy, cheerful, well-napped and content to play with her toys. Other days (usually Fridays, our busiest day of the week) she’s overtired and refuses to let me put her down anywhere, which makes it extremely difficult (and stressful) to decorate cakes on a deadline. I’ve learned to do a lot of things one handed!

 

It’s definitely a big challenge, but I love that I get to spend so much time with her, even on the cranky days. It’s such a blessing to watch her be social, explore the shop and interact with our customers.

 

Munching on our baking tools. She also enjoys banging cake tins, scrunching pastry bags, and pulling apart cupcake cases. Someday we’ll figure out how to turn all of this into useful labor ;)

 

bakerybabe2Mommy’s little “helper” during photoshoots.

 

Enjoying a playtime break in her playpen.

 

bakerybabe

 

Slikkepotten hat and Harry Potter shirt. This girl is definitely MY daughter :)

 

On particularly busy days Chris will come hang out with Lily after he gets off of work so that I can have an extra hour of Lily-free time to finish up projects. This is Lily’s “Daddy is tickling me!” face and it melts my heart every time I look at it!

 

I just love my little bakery buddy!
Lily at work

 

At the end of April I went back to work at Slikkepotten. The last two weeks of April and first week of May mark the start of our highest season of the year, kicking it off with three weeks of confirmation cakes and then flowing right into wedding cakes for the rest of the summer. Even though Norwegian maternity leave is typically 10-12 months (I know, right??), there was no way I could stay away that long and still return to a functioning business with loyal customers. We did hire someone to take over orders for me during our slow season between Christmas and April, but she’s not experienced enough to handle our high season on her own. So I went back to work after 3 months of maternity leave and Lily came with me. Unfortunately, it was also high season for Chris and they had an exercise going on right when I went back to work. That meant long and inflexible hours for Chris as well. Not ideal.

 

I get asked all the time how it’s working out having Lily at work with me. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It has been extremely difficult. As you can imagine, it’s insane to try to accomplish anything significant during the day with a baby that young and as a result I’ve had to work many long hours and many late nights. It has been hard for me, Lily, Chris, and the other gals at the bakery to cope with it all. We set up Lily’s pack-n-play in a back room and I try to get as much done as I possibly can during her naps. Sometimes we are blessed with 2 hour naps, but more often than not I get 40 minutes tops to work on cake before she wakes up again. It was a cycle of nursing, sleeping, baking, playing, changing and then nursing again for 8-10 hours, then we picked Chris up from work just in time to get Lily home to bed. Again, if we were lucky she’d go right down, but more often than not she wouldn’t go down until 9 or 10. Then I would head back to work until 2 or 3am to pick up the slack on all the tasks I wasn’t able to finish during the day. The first month back especially was really, really tough.  Poor Lily was so overtired from not napping well at the bakery and Chris and I were overtired from not getting much sleep at night.

 

Part of the reason it was so tough was because Lily refuses to take a bottle. We were so worried about breastfeeding not working out in the beginning and had read so much about “nipple confusion” that we waited too long to start giving her a bottle. She therefore won’t go to sleep for anyone but me and during those early months I couldn’t be apart from her for more than 2 hours at a time. We had many offers to babysit from our friends at church, but unless they wanted to come hang out at the bakery the whole time we unfortunately couldn’t take them up on the offer. In fact, during our craziest week, Chris thankfully had a week in between his back-to-back NATO exercises so he took work off and hung out with us at the bakery the entire week so he could take over Lily duty while she was awake. He had to be there the whole time apart from the occasional walk around town in order for me to feed her when she was hungry, which was incredibly boring for him. He’s definitely my hero!

 

After those first 4 or 5 weeks back, things have become a LITTLE easier. Now that confirmation season was over I have been able to take on more of an admin role. On an average week I am able to spend Monday, Wednesday and Thursday doing administrative work at home, and then I spend Tuesdays and Fridays at the shop. It has helped Lily to be able to nap at home so much, but she still hasn’t been able to get on much of a sleep schedule and therefore sleep is a constant battle. After spending all day Tuesday at work, I still typically have 4 or 5 consultations in the evening. I have also had to teach multiple evening classes and spend many late Friday nights finishing up cakes in order to get them done in time for delivery the next day. While Chris usually comes to the bakery with me in the evenings when I have consultations or classes, it still means Lily is frequently up way past her bedtime and therefore has an erratic schedule. Poor Chris has had to come with hours of walking up and down the streets near the bakery to attempt to help her sleep without nursing and suffer through a fussy, overtired baby.

 

So while the frantic craziness of the first few weeks has subsided, the day-to-day is still really difficult.  I can’t even begin to describe how much it tears me up inside when my poor baby is exhausted and upset and screaming and there’s nothing I can do about it because I HAVE to finish these cakes on time. The picture below was taken on the way home from a delivery at 9pm on a Friday night, when poor Lily was so tired she just couldn’t cope anymore. It sure makes you feel like one rotten parent.

 

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t wonder if I should quit the business. I’ve worked so hard over the past 4 years to get to this point and I don’t want to leave it behind when it’s making so much progress, but I also don’t want there to be permanent consequences for Lily in the long run. It’s a constant battle in my head and emotions over what makes a good parent and what is ultimately best for Lily and our family.  I have no answers and probably won’t for a while so for now we’ll continue praying and trying to figure out a way to make it work, whatever “it” is.

 

As difficult as owning a bakery and having a new baby is, I do feel extremely blessed that I have the opportunity and capability to bring Lily to work with me.  Overall Lily likes the bakery and has been such a little trooper! She’s getting exposed to new sights, sounds and people on a daily basis and there are so many things for her to touch and feel and learn. It has allowed us to continue successfully breastfeeding, which was really important to me and I know that having her here with me has allowed us to form a bond that would have been more difficult to form if she was being raised by a nanny. I have been able to be there for her as she learns and grows each day. I’m blessed to have a business partner with kids of her own who understands how difficult it is and is willing to let me adjust my schedule and work flow to make these kind of concessions in order to make it work. I’m blessed to have a husband who supports me in this endeavor even though it means so many sacrifices on his part. All of it is a huge, huge gift.

 

 

 

We made it an entire year! The cake shop turns 1!

Slikkepotten kakebutikk turned 1 in March!

We officially made it through the dreaded first year of business. It was a ridiculously hard year, between the many challenges of starting up a brand new business, the steep learning curve we endured, the frequent 80+ hour work weeks and oh yeah…having a baby(!), but we made it! We’ve been told over and over again how statistically most businesses fail within the first year, so we’re pretty proud of ourselves for managing to cross that threshold!

In April we had a little birthday party to celebrate with free cupcakes, discounts in the store, raffles for fun prizes and a little kids cake competition. You can see we’ve come a long way since opening last year!

(Cultural point of interest: You’ll see a lot of flags in the following pictures. It’s common to fly the Norwegian flag on special occasions like birthdays.)
Some highlights from this year:
  • Actually opening on time!
  • Getting a pretty good customer following
  • Being featured in the newspaper and local magazines multiple times
  • Hiring an employee
  • Taking on an intern
  • Installing an industrial dishwasher (we cried when we finally installed it! No more daily 2-hour dish routine!)
  • Installing an industrial oven (We also cried when we installed this one! No more 12 hour+ baking days using one home-size oven!)
  • Taking a Business of Baking course which was amazing and set us on a much better trajectory than we were on previously
  • Trip to the Cake International trade show in Birmingham to find new suppliers and be inspired by new trends
  • Surviving our first wedding cake season
  • Teaching lots of great classes

 

Now our little baby is growing up and entering puberty. We’re working on filling in the gaps in our brand, restructuring our internal systems to increase efficiency, adjusting to working with our new employees, and of course, figuring out how to handle everything with a new baby in tow. While I can’t say things have mellowed out or gotten any easier, we are working on hitting our stride. Hopefully good things are in store for the future!

 

2015: Bring it on

2015 packed a punch right from the very beginning.

Our last day in London Chris and I were both suffering from ominous tickles in our throats (foreign germs in combination with tourist exhaustion combined with pregnancy (on my part)? Not a good combo…) After a harried flight home from London we arrived on New Years Eve just in time to go to our friends’, the Olsens, house for new year festivities (Nostalgia moment: On a plane heading to Stavanger on New Years Eve. Flashback to when we first arrived 4 years ago!).  While it was fun to hang out with Carrie, Kjetil, Erin and Barrett, staying out until well past midnight and traipsing through the cold rain to see the fireworks probably wasn’t the best decision on the heels of an exhausting trip and the edge of a cold.

 

Happy 2015!!

Chris didn’t end up so bad in the end, but I ended up steamrolled by a nasty sinus AND chest infection for almost two weeks. Being 8 months pregnant and majorly congested (more than I already was due to the pregnancy) with a raging cough was downright miserable. I had a moment or two where it felt like I was having an asthma attack it was so hard to breathe. I finally made it in to see the doctor and they gave me antibiotics for the sinus infection hoping that targeting that would help give my body the energy to fight off  the viral chest infection, which thankfully it did. Most unfortunately, though, I missed a whole week at the bakery that we were counting on as a team to continue training Lynne, the cake decorator who would be taking over for me once I started my maternity leave. When we only had a month left every week counted so losing that week was pretty stressful for everyone involved.

Work in general was pretty stressful all of January, despite it being our slow season. Because of the lingering cough and overall weakness as a result of fighting off such a nasty bug, I was commanded by my doctor and midwife to take it as slow as possible (I had pretty much coughed the baby down into my pelvis and it was starting to get pretty painful to stand for too long) but my job isn’t exactly the kind of job where I can take it easy. It was a mad scramble to get everything ready for Lynne to take over for me. In Norway, it’s expected (and often mandated) that a woman begins her maternity leave 3 weeks before her due date. That was SO not going to happen for me at Slikkepotten. Way too much to do! I surprised everyone who came into the shop when they asked when I was due and I would reply “In 2 weeks…” Katrine would quickly add, “She’s American.” as if that explained everything. I was planning to start my leave the week before my due date to give me time to finish up the things I needed to do before the baby was born (we figured she would be late, since we were told most 1st babies come after their due date), but the running joke at the bakery was that I would work straight up until the day I gave birth. Despite the pressing need to finish my huge to-do list in a truncated amount of time it was getting harder and harder to walk due to the baby pressing so far down in my pelvis and the residual swelling from London. I was so exhausted I would come home and crash as soon as I got home. So handling pretty massive stress while trying to keep my body calm for the baby was my primary task for most of January.

The question I got asked most frequently throughout my pregnancy was, “What are you going to do with Slikkepotten once you give birth?” Here in Norway typical maternity leave is ten months or more for the mom, so people were quite shocked when I replied that I was planning to come back after three months in time for the confirmation and wedding seasons. Three months is great from an American perspective, but utterly insane from a Norwegian one. In the beginning, Katrine kept telling me I needed to take the full time off and I would just say, “Can you really run the business by yourself for an entire year?” The answer to that was always no, so it settled the matter. We did hire a lovely lass from Scotland named Lynne to take over for me on the bakery side of things for those three months though. Overall, not an ideal situation from a business perspective, but Katrine and I went into it knowing Chris and I were trying to get pregnant so we were able to plan far enough in advance to make it work. Life and work once the baby comes is a whole lot of unknown territory, that’s for sure!

Chris got Lasik eye surgery in the middle of the month! Goodbye glasses! He had to wear these awesome eye patches whenever he slept for a few days to keep himself from rubbing his eyes. I thought it was pretty hilarious every time I helped him tape them on before bed :)
Getting the car seat set up and ready to go!

Once Christmas and our London trip were over, our due date suddenly seemed WAY closer. Christmas was always the milestone in my head (“Oh, the baby won’t be born until after Christmas…”) but now that Christmas was over it got real REALLY fast. I was struggling to finish my to-do list at work, let alone everything we needed to do before the baby arrived! Aaaaaah!  So much to do!

 

2015….here we go!

Sugary Business Trip to London and Birmingham

While Chris was in Naples, I took a little trip of my own to England with my Slikkepotten partner, Katrine, for my first ever business trip! I tell you, there was something surreal about flying to London on a business trip for a company that I own. Life takes you to crazy places, that’s for sure.

The purpose of the trip was two-fold: 1. Take a 2-day cake-specific business class from The Business of Baking and 2: Go to the Cake International convention in Birmingham.

The Business of Baking class was probably the best thing we’ve done for our business all year. By this point Slikkepotten had been open 9 months and we were both completely exhausted and very burned out. I was personally at the point where if I never made another cake again it would be too soon and just the smell of chocolate cake would make my stomach curl (although the latter was probably primarily due to pregnancy…) The class was run by Michelle Green, who is a former bakery owner in Australia who now runs a popular cake industry blog by the same name and Sharon Wee of Sharon Wee Creations, who is a pretty famous cake decorator in the cake world.

In contrast to most cake blogs that focus on tutorials and techniques for decorating cakes, Michelle strictly writes about how to run the business side of making cakes. Katrine and I had been following her posts for a year at this point and her advice proved to be essential to the successful start-up of our company! By this point though, we desperately needed further help  because clearly how things were going weren’t sustainable for us or our families (multiple 80 hour work weeks in a row, anyone?). So, when we found out Michelle and Sharon were coming to London to host their very first international class we jumped on the opportunity.

It was an amazing two days! We learned loads about how to truly run a successful baking business including things like pricing our cakes correctly, managing schedules, dealing with customers, marketing ourselves, getting good systems in place, etc. It was fantastic to interact with other bakers who were all in the same boat as we were and to realize that the problems we were dealing with as a company were pretty universal to the industry. We found out we were actually doing pretty ok for ourselves :) We were able to take what we learned in the class and make some important and much-needed changes in how we run our company. It is definitely still a work in progress and I can’t say it’s even close to where we want it to be yet, but things have been set in motion that will hopefully help us be able to work better hours, have better customer service, spend more time with our families and run a more efficient company. Oh, and to pay ourselves a salary. That will hopefully happen soon :) Thanks so much Michelle and Sharon!

 

We spent two full days in London doing the class and then hopped a train to Birmingham for the Cake International convention. No time for sightseeing!

Cake International was awesome. We went specifically to find new vendors and new products to stock in our shop and get a heads up on upcoming trends (Norway is about 5-10 years behind the rest of the world when it comes to cake trends), but we also watched plenty of demonstrations (some were pretty meh, but some were useful) and ended up getting majorly inspired by the competition cakes. It felt pretty legit to get schmoozed by the vendors who wanted us to stock their products, especially since Norway is such an up and coming market in the cake world and a lot of brands want to expand into it. I felt like such a business owner!

Me the entire 3 days we were there. I had to exercise some serious restraint. Sooooo many cake toys!
^^All made out of sugar!^^
This was one of the coolest cakes in the show! Made by Queen of Hearts Couture Cakes, 8 feet tall, 100% decorated with buttercream. Check out the details of the piping below! 
^^Made out of sprinkles. No joke.^^
The details! The baker in me still geeking out.
Peony demonstration. Time to step up my sugar flower game!
The lovely Sharon Wee signing some books for us for our shop.
I wasn’t very good at taking photos of the progress of my growing baby bump, but here’s one at about 25 weeks that I took for Chris so he could see his baby growing while we were apart. And yes… that was a kissy-face elevator selfie. Don’t judge me.
Buzzfeed famous Katniss Everdeen Mockingjay cake.

 

People are seriously so talented.



Overall, the trip was inspiring and encouraging and made Katrine and I both feel like we might actually be able to pull this off. Thanks Michelle and Sharon and Cake International!