Sunday, December 20, 2015

Better Know Your Baker

When I first started making cakes, I took the Wilton classes (the old class, not the current edition) at Hobby Lobby. I wanted to be able to make my kids' birthday cakes. My daughter's first birthday cake was my first cake ever. 

I enjoyed making cakes as a hobby and made them for family and friends. It was so much fun, I even made a Facebook page for my stuff and named it Cakeapotamus. 

I continued looking for more and more cake decorating classes I could take. In time, I started making cakes for strangers. That wasn't so much legal, and got me a call from the local Health Inspector. Yep. So, I opened a bakery. 

That's how Cakeapotamus came to be. I now have a precious yellow bakery that I adore where I get to make cakes for the best people on Earth. I sometimes forget, though, that not everyone has been around from the start. Cakeapotamus has grown, and not all the cakepots know me or my story. So I thought I'd write a little blog post about the baker. If you're not interested, go check out the Bloggess's blog. It's way funnier than this one.

My name is Mandi Buckalew.

I've been married for eleven years to the best man I've ever met. He teaches computer science and business at a local community college.


 We have two kids, a son and a daughter, who are both at the ages where they read chapter books and still write letters to Santa. They're not twins- they are 15 months apart in age and are best friends.

We own Cakeapotamus, a custom small-batch bakery and cake studio in Opelika, AL. Cakeapotamus is not a franchise or chain. We are a family-owned small business. The bakery opened in the summer of 2013. Yep, we've been there 2 years already!

Before I opened the bakery, I was a teacher at a local public school. During my last year of teaching, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

That's where this scar came from.
My cancer turned out to be a huge blessing as it gave me the confidence to leave teaching for a career that brings me joy. Making cakes and creating parties for people is much more joyful than assigning homework to moody adolescents.

I am in remission and have been since shortly before the bakery opened. I can't imagine trying to run a business while dealing with cancer treatment. Holy Snokes!

It would be hard to make cakes from the radiation room!
I have a colorful medical history that includes getting all kinds of body parts removed. At last count, I've had something like a dozen surgeries and almost all of those involve getting something removed. My gall bladder was my favorite. The surprise hysterectomy was my least favorite.

I think this one was from having a tumor removed from my hand.
I earned my Master's Degree in Special Education from Auburn University. My training focused on autism and behavior disorders. I spent most of my teaching career working with adolescents with behavior problems.

I earned my B.S. in Applied Psychology from Georgia Tech. My emphasis was on animal behavior and learning. I've always found the learning process fascinating, in all kinds of species. As an animal behaviorist, I worked primarily with exotic animals in zoo environments. I've worked at Zoo Atlanta, the Fort Worth Zoo, and done some stuff at the Dallas Zoo, all the Sea World parks, and a couple of university labs. Before you get all mad at me for working at Sea World or in an animal lab, consider that my main research was on teaching landmark navigation to Madagascar hissing cockroaches. Yep. And those cockroaches were treated like KINGS, y'all.

I was in the Georgia Tech band all four years of college and was lucky enough to travel to all sorts of neat places with the football team. Despite this, I still don't know all the rules of football.

I also don't actually know that much about Star Wars. Despite being a "super fan" in the In a Galaxy series, there's almost always someone around who knows things about Star Wars that I don't.

Harry Potter though- that's my favorite. I know that universe pretty well.

Harry Potter, Star Wars, and the other things I enjoy are featured in the bakery's decorating scheme. I filled the bakery with the things I love in the hope that people who come to the bakery will also find at least one thing they connect with. Most people do.

Except that pink fish. See... I was at Roland's Thrift Shop one day and she showed me that stupid fish. I said, "No one will ever want that." As soon as I said it, I knew it was true. Nobody would ever want a taxidermied fish that has been spray painted pink. I started to feel bad for the poor, pink fish that nobody loved. I started to care about it. And the next thing I knew, I was in love with it and it was hanging on the bakery wall.

Most things in the bakery have a story like that. I'm always happy to tell you what something is and why it's there.

What else? While I was still a teacher, I put myself through business school at night. My plan was to open a bakery after I retired and I wanted to be as prepared as possible for that. The cancer pushed my retirement date way up, though.

My favorite cakes to make are the weird ones. Or the ones where people tell me, "My budget is $xxx.xx, I want this size and flavor of cake in this/these theme(s), it has to have this, this, and this. Go!"

My least favorite cakes to make start with, "What's the cheapest thing I can get?"

I'm a member of an assortment of organizations and clubs: the 501st (and soon the Rebel Legion), Alpha Phi Omega, Kappa Kappa Psi, Epsilon Kappa Sigma, Mensa, ICES... I guess I'm not a member of the teacher organizations anymore.

I firmly believe that you should like what you like (as long as it isn't hurting anyone) without apologies. Whether that's Auburn football, Star Trek, or purple unicorn kittens, people should always be comfortable geeking out for what they like. And then get a cake to go with it.

I also believe that the birthday boy or girl should get to choose the cake flavor. If you tell your child that they can't order a pistachio/ nutmeg cake today because it's not their birthday, then you should allow them to get a pistachio/nutmeg cake when it is their birthday. You never know who will discover their new favorite flavor because you or your kid ordered something weird.

I think this answers the questions I get asked the most. If there's anything else you want to know, feel free to ask. Except what's in the icing. I'm not telling that.

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