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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!

 

Thankful November
After our trip to London, November was still pretty insanely busy and actually rather stressful. Chris was still gone for most of the month and work at the bakery never slows down.

 

First off, we had the Varatun Christmas market to prepare for. We had a booth with cake supplies and hosted a gingerbread decorating station for the kids. While we were in the process of mixing, cutting, and baking over 800 gingerbread cookies, every baker’s worst fear came true: our oven stopped working. We had to scramble and take all the cookie dough over to Katrine’s house to bake them. As you can imagine, late nights ensued in order to have them ready in time for the market.

 

Luckily, we had already purchased our big new industrial oven and were in the process of having it installed while we were in the UK the week before, but it still wasn’t completely hooked up and in working order yet. THANKFULLY because of the Christmas market we hadn’t taken any cake orders so while inconvenient, it wasn’t as big of a disaster as it could have been.

 

Also…I got up in the middle of the night to pee (as pregnant women are wont to do) and stumbled over my suitcase in the dark, ripping off my big toenail again (it was already pretty janky due to a ballroom dancing accident my freshman year of college). I couldn’t wear closed toe shoes for three days due to the swelling! What a start to the month!

 

My poor toe!
The cake shop completely torn to bits while our oven was being installed (and yes…those are Halloween decorations still up…) + A special delivery from Chris since he couldn’t be there in person to help me through my rough week. I seriously married the most amazing man :)
Varatun Christmas Market
We finally got our brand new-to-us deck oven up and running! This was the first test-bake and from then on out our lives have changed for the better. We went from only being able to bake 12 cupcakes at once to being able to bake 120. No more 14-hour baking days for moi! I can’t even begin to tell you how amazing that is after almost 4 years of baking in a tiny normal home oven.
Skittles being Skittles and hanging out on the baby bump.
Chris came back from Naples and that same weekend our church ward had a fun Thanksgiving activity up at some cabins at the Sirdal ski resort up in the mountains the weekend before Thanksgiving. We all got together and cooked 10 turkeys, huge vats of sweet potatoes, and numerous pies and had ourselves a classic American Thanksgiving dinner. The picture above is the only picture I have from the trip. It started to snow pretty heavily on the way back down to Stavanger and unfortunately since Chris had been gone for so long we still hadn’t put the winter tires on our car. It was a little shaky, but we made it home in one piece.


The next weekend on the official holiday Chris and I had ourselves a little mini Thanksgiving dinner just the two of us (by official holiday I mean the Saturday of the official weekend. Since Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated here in Norway Chris and I don’t get it off of work so we haven’t had Thanksgiving dinner on actual Thanksgiving day since we moved to Norway.) This year, on my continuing quest to make the perfect turkey, I whittled it down to the bare bones to start at the basics. I got rid of all the homemade fancy roasted garlic rub and all that nonsense from years past and purely rubbed it all over with butter and stuffed the cavity with lemons, onions, and herbs. It turned out to be the closest to the turkeys on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens I’ve made yet! I still need to work a little bit on the evenness of the browning and now I’m going to start to play with flavor a little since it was a little bland with only butter, but it was perfectly moist and that’s ultimately what matters! Next year just might be the year!

Chris and I sure had a lot to be grateful for this year!

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!

Slikkepotten Grand Opening
On March 22nd we opened Slikkepotten kakebutikk’s doors to the public for the first time! It was such an exciting event! Loads of people turned up, we had hundreds of free cupcakes in our favorite flavors, there were raffles and giveaways, and overall just a ton of love and support! We are so grateful for all of you who came to celebrate with us that day!
Doing the official welcome speeches and ribbon cutting. We had to do it inside since it was POURING rain outside (in typical Stavanger fashion)
And we’re open for business!!

The hard work definitely hasn’t ended, but after such a successful grand opening day, we have high hopes for what the future of Slikkepotten kakebutikk has in store! Thank you again for all of you who offer us your continuing love and support!