So I uh. I won a writing thing.

Last month, I was named one of the winners of a creative writing contest at my college. They selected five pieces and I was the fifth. It was awesome. It was unexpected.

I don’t usually put myself out there. Well, okay, yes, you are reading this blog which is expressly my inside thoughts being put out there. But this is different. This a conversation. It’s not a story I invented and crafted and refined. I made a world and told its tale. A good enough story to be held up along with four other very, very well crafted works.

They asked me to read from it, which I had forgotten about until I got the email letting me know I was one of the winners. For some reason, reading something I wrote in front of people is way scary. And I say this having had many years of improv experience! I’d take pretending to be a lizard that is also a lawyer over reading a short essay I wrote any day. One thing is playing in public. The other is sharing a secret conversation you had with yourself.

The reading went fine and I chatted with folks after the ceremony. One of the committee members approached me and said how much he enjoyed some choices I had made and I thanked him. I confessed that part of me was still detached from the whole experience. “I’m still getting over that adult people read this and liked it.” I said, blushing furiously. Somewhere I had gotten the idea that it was a student committee. That idea was really comforting. But the committee was all faculty. The teacher sort of laughed at me and said something like, “Yes, adult people read these.” Embarrassing. But hey. That’s on brand for me.

There was another experience with a writing contest I had when I was much younger. I’m talking like 5 or 6. I knew I liked to tell stories and had learned about a small writing conference at a college near by where we lived. I boasted to my teacher that I was planning on going to it. She asked me to report back.

Things went awry. That was many years ago, so the details are fuzzy. But there was family conflict and at the end of it I wasn’t going anywhere. The feeling of disappointment and shame are still attached to the memory, though probably mostly because of my actions afterwards.

The teacher asked me about how the conference went. There was a writing contest for the young age bracket that I had planned to enter. The true story of what happened wasn’t what I wanted to share. So instead I informed my teacher that I had won third place, if my memory serves me, “of pretty much the whole thing”.

Oh, little Lauren.

My teacher was excited and we informed the class. But when I struggled to explain what I had written, she was on to me. My mother was called and came up to the school and I burst into tears when the truth was revealed. The phrase “very disappointed” was tossed about. I sobbed about not wanting to share about the family fight and not knowing what to do and the situation revealed itself to be more complicated, much to my mother’s chagrin.

A sad experience, true. But it didn’t stop me from writing. I continued to invent worlds to adventure in. Places to spend my time. While the root of all this may lie in childhood escapism in its purest form, the stories I create now are like little vacations in my brain. This story that was selected for the contest is a pretty shining example of that. It’s a girl with an ordinary life that takes a turn for the dramatic and unusual. A common tale, though laid out on an uncommon path.

The story selected for the contest was actually based on a dream I had. It was so vibrant and real. I tried my best to document it. I tried to take the reader there into my dream. I’ve gone on some really terrific adventures in my dreams! I’ve joked that my subconscious is the greatest author I’ve ever known.

I have so many other stories I could tell. Stories from my waking mind. There’s no one stopping me from telling them, now. No one other than myself. If this win meant anything, it’s that my secret conversations need to end up on paper. I should tell them if for no other reason than to give someone else the chance to come along with me to some other place. A place that no one can bar them from.

Off I go.

Advertisements

How To Make Your Own Barbie Candy Dress Cake

I used to make candy cakes: Styrofoam cakes with candy hot glued to the outside. The candy simply pulls off the styrofoam and you take off the wrapper and enjoy. My Barbie Candy Cake is by far the most popular thing I’ve posted on Pinterest. It’s a cake with a REAL BARBIE DOLL INSIDE. No weird disembodied torso, OH NO. THE REAL DEAL. Here she is, in all her purple glory:

barbie1watermark

Pretty neat, yes? The advantage of creating these cakes at the candy store was that there was professional equipment at our disposal, like a heated styrofoam cutter, and literally hundreds of sizes and shapes of candy. While you don’t have an entire candy store at the ready, this Barbie candy cake IS possible to make in your own home. And hey – I needed a birthday present, so now is just as good a time as any to make the tutorial.

redbarbiewatermark

I will say that the equipment makes or breaks the “doability” of this project.

Supplies:

  • Hot glue gun
  • Hot glue
  • A hot styrofoam cutter OR serrated knife (a bread knife is cool)
  • A vacuum
  • A drill with spades*

*This is to drill the hole Barbie will go in. If you don’t have a drill you’re going to end up just hacking away a hole in the middle of the styrofoam so Barbie can go inside. Is this easy or safe? Not terribly. The wiser investment might be plunking down a 20 at Michaels for that hot styrofoam cutter.

Shopping List:

  • Anything from the above list you don’t have
  • (2) 8” Cake Dummies (they will be 4″ tall)
  • 1 9” Cake Round (Cardboard Circle)
  • Tissue Paper (to cover the cake round, so maybe in a coordinating color)
  • A chunk of cardstock 4”x8” (we literally used a chunk of a cereal box)
  • A Barbie, with a short skirt or bathing suit outfit
  • A giant pile of candy in your color scheme

 

Lets discuss the shopping list. The cake dummies are just round styrofoam chunks. Cake decorators use them for practice. You will use them to create the dress. They, and your cake round, can be purchased from any cake decoration store. Support a small business; shop at a local one!

As for the candy, I’d get a color theme in mind. Match it with your Barbie. My Barbie and candy was from around Valentine’s, so that’s why we’re working with a lot of red and pink. You want to make sure you’re picking things that will glue on easily. Anything like a Tootsie Roll isn’t ideal because the hot glue and the wax wrapper aren’t friends. It will just fall off. I love Air Heads candy because they’re a. delicious and b. get good coverage. Laffy Taffy in all it’s wonderful shapes and sizes is also a plus. The purple Barbie has a fan in the back of her dress made of a lollipop with more candy glued to it. My red Barbie just had a few small lollipops in the back. I like the tiny pops because they help fill weird holes and sometimes you can use the sticks for gluing (more on this below).

When thinking of where you can buy the candy, I’d look to local candy stores and bulk food shops first. I made the mistake of trying a Party City first. I went to three before giving up on them. A lesson in taking my own advice. Shop local!

A note: Please keep your kids in mind when picking candy. Allergies are always a concern and sometimes tiny candy is a choking hazard. Be mindful, be safe. Okay, you have a pile of tools! Lets GET TO WORK.

MAKING THE BARBIE CANDY CAKE:

barbiebootywatermark

1. Glue the two cake dummies together using hot glue, one on top of the other. You don’t need to hot glue the thing to death, just enough to create a solid bond, so you have a cylinder that is 8″ tall and 8″ across. While the glue cools…

2. Mark center on both the top and the bottom. That’s 4” in. At this point you’ll pick out your wide spade for the drill or if using a foam cutter, measure a 2” circle to be your guide for cutting out the middle so Barbie can fit. Barbie has booty.

3. Oh yeah, secure Barbie’s skirt, if she has one. I used the rubber bands from her packaging.

4. Get your vacuum ready and drill/cut your hole, working from the top and bottom so you meet in the middle. Our spade was 1.5”, so we wiggled it around a little. Styrofoam will fly and stick to everything because of static electricity and science. The vacuum will keep you from going crazy trying to clean up. The hot cutter will be cleaner and might not need the vacuum. If the edge is rough, that’s okay. You’ll cover it with candy.

 

geodresswatermark

Look! Barbie has a very couture minimalist wedding dress now. It’s a statement about the wedding industrial complex. She’s writing her thesis on it.


5. Take Barbie out and grab your cardstock. This is going to be a guide for the slope of your dress curve. Draw on the cardboard approximately what you want your curve to look like. Cut on the inside of the curve. This will give you your guide. You can see it below in the action shot of us cutting down the foam.

slicingwatermark

slicinggif

6. Take your bread knife or foam cutting knife and start shaving chunks away. Use the guide and check your progress, by holding it up to your cake. This will help you keep a consistent curve. Otherwise her dress might be weird and lumpy. Again, being exact isn’t 100% necessary because you are covering it with candy. I made a gif of that cutting action for you.

Another note: for the love of all candy, please be careful cutting and drilling and gluing this all together. There are so many exciting ways you can hurt yourself working on this. Take your time and be cautious. I will say it is most likely you’ll burn yourself with the hot glue gun. I’ve done it myself. Careful. Please. Thank you.

7. After cutting away the sides, do a height check. We found that Barbie’s hips were at about 7.5” so we cut a final half inch slice off the bottom.

Ooo dang it’s looking like a dress now!

foamdresswatermark

8. Now we assess our candy situation and think about how to design our dress. I completely just make up a dress. I use bigger candy as poofs and try to make layers. The nice thing about the hot glue is if it sucks, you can rip it off and start over. So play around. I like to use the rope Laffy Taffy to define my poofs. The two tone thing (like the purple Barbie) takes more design savvy to pull off, but I think it looks really cool.

candylayoutwatermark

When looking at coverage, I’ll sometimes lay out my candy so I can see how I’m doing. You want to make the front and sides as symmetrical as you can. It looks crummy if it isn’t. The back is the back, so it’s kind of fair game to kind of have it a little messy. But for the front and sides? Yeah. Matchy matchy. It also helps, I think, to establish a pattern.

9. Start slapping glue on there. Apply some, not a lot, of glue to your candy. Press it to the foam and hold for maybe 5 seconds.

midglueingwatermark

Sometimes you end up with weird little holes peaking out inbetween your candy. My recommendation is to take some of that tissue paper and dab a little glue on it. Use a lollipop stick to poke it inbetween you candy to cover up the styrofoam. Honestly, you’ll see the gaps and no one else will, but this is a cheap and easy fix. You could also use small candy like the Jolly Rancher. My finished dress also has zots turned on their sides glued in. I think it make it look like little bow/tufts on the side.

10. Once you’ve filled in all your gaps, your dress is complete! Give it a once over and see if anything is loose. A little extra gluing won’t hurt, especially if it needs to travel somewhere else. Once this is done, take the cake round, hot glue the tissue paper to it, and glue it to the bottom of the dress, tissue paper color side up. Make sure you leave the center 2″ free of glue so Barbie’s shoes don’t get glued down. This is your base.

That’s it! At this point, you have a finished Barbie cake! Ta da! You did it!

dressturngif

Once the candy is devoured, Barbie can be slipped out and played with separately and the cake (if not too beat up) might live to be another dress. Play around, see what kind of color patterns you like and most importantly – HAVE BACKUP CANDY. You might get hungry while you work. It’s part of the design process. Happy crafting!

Speaking of cakes.

Update: I normally don’t update posts, but since so many have requested a how-to for the Barbie cake, I have made one. You can check it out on this blog post. Thanks for your interest, everyone!

As I have mentioned, I worked for a time at a candy store. Well, candy store slash gift shop. It was GREAT. It had a ton of kitschy little gift items, with which I was well acquainted and very much a fan, but also had tons of candy.

I’ve been a candy fiend since I was a kid. We’d spend our allowances exclusively on candy. Airheads. Warheads. Big League Chew. Jolly Ranchers. Snickers. Reese’s… Anything. The list went on and on. I loved it all. We ran a small candy ring out of our bus when we were in elementary school. We’d buy Airheads at 10 cents at the grocery store and sell it for a quarter. Not bad! It was well-known that they cost 10 cents but we’d start yelling about supply and demand and that was that. Some Christmases ago my parents gave me a Costco case of Airheads as a gift. I ate all 75 of them in a day and a half. In the 8th grade I was in a class where our algebra teacher brought in supplies once from his side business as a vending machine operator. What was a loosely academic discussion of how a business operates turned into selling us candy twice a week in the middle of class. The school eventually asked him to stop.

Candy was my thing. So it was only a matter of time until I worked for a candy store.

Splenda, goddess of sugar

The above photo is from Halloween, sacred holiday of the candy store. I am dressed as the Greek goddess, Splenda. My sandals are Tootsie Roll brand, my scepter a large lollypop, my laurel wreath accented with both fake greenery and small apple and watermelon Laffy Taffy.

The job was great. I love small business retail and I was very knowledgeable of the product. I met so many people like me. We were down the street from Houston’s main medical center, so there were stories related to that, too. People buying ginger chews for family members doing chemo (it helps!), kids running around like tiny terrors because this is the only fun they could have before heading back down the street… One time a guy ran in out of breath looking for a certain licorice for his wife, who was IN LABOR (!) in their car. She wanted him to get “her candy” before they were stuck in the hospital.

And my favorite part of the candy store job? Making candy cakes.

A circus tent made of Wonka candy

Jesus is my lifesaver

We would take foam cake rounds and hot glue on candy. The cake above was a custom order done for a church tea. They said they wanted it Lifesaver themed because, “Jesus was their lifesaver.” They were very pleased with the results.

Barbie Cake

There were other non-round cakes, too. These Barbie cakes were from the mind of my old manager who would buy Barbies and insert them into the Styrofoam mold. The dress design was all me, though. Cool thing is that once the candy was all ripped off and eaten, your kid got to keep the Barbie.

Number Cake

Here you can see this number cake in progress. The uncovered Styrofoam peeking out… Perfect for an 8th birthday.

I really do miss the candy store some days. These cakes allowed me special creativity. Creating something with my hands. Something that starts without a road map that slowly comes together to form something I could take pride in.

8 Cake Finished

I suppose that’s what this blog is, now. A place to store and share my creativity.