Friday, August 6, 2010

Solvitur Ambulando: July Birthday Cake/Merry-Go-Round Cake

I’m back online!

I apologize once again for the delay in posts. My computer died last week. I checked e-mail in the morning, walked away to do something and when I came back, it was sleeping. Only, it was in such a deep sleep, I was unable to awake it. The lights on the keyboard were illuminated, but it just didn’t want to do any work. I tried restarting it. Same result. I checked the power cord. Nothing. The next step was to panic. All I could think about were all of my documents that were stranded on the hard drive. I wanted nothing more than to throw them a life raft and save them. My photographs and poetry and attempts at writing a book were all drowning in a sea of technological uncertainty.

After the initial wave of panic washed over me, I was hit by another ripple of anxiety-ridden thoughts: I couldn’t post to the blog, I couldn’t check e-mail or Facebook, and web searches were nowhere in my near future. I decided I needed to step away from the comatose machine and clear my head.  So Murphy and I headed out for our daily walk.

As I’ve mentioned before, there is nothing athletically redeeming whatsoever about our walks. Murphy is much more interested in smelling every square inch of the route than he is in elevating his heart rate. Typically the only workout I get from these adventures is perhaps some stretching and the resistance training of pulling my 75 pound dog away from light poles, stop signs, patches of grass, etc… But that day, I had a lot on my mind and I caught myself zoning out a bit as he stopped to smell the usual spots. At one point, I realized we had been stopped at the same light pole for several minutes; all the while I was lost in the cascade of negative thoughts flowing through my mind about possible outcomes for the computer. I forced myself out of my head and took a moment to watch my dog. And what I noticed amazed me.

Murphy is meticulous in the way he investigates a spot. His nose travels up and down each blade of grass and his brow furrows with intense focus. He reminds me of the way I must look when I’m at an antique store searching through the piles of trinkets trying to find my treasure. He’ll stay like this for minutes on end until he is satisfied that every bit of information has been gathered. Then, he’ll leave his own mark by lifting his leg. By the end of the walk, he is merely going through the motions because his bladder is dry and he has nothing left to leave.

I decided I needed to be a little more like Murphy and for the rest of the walk I paid close attention to my surroundings. I listened closely to the cackling caws of the crows and quickly realized that they had a wide range of calls, not just the ca-caw sound I was used to hearing. In fact, at one point, it sounded as if they were actually trying to talk to Murphy and me using human language. I tried to identify other birds on our walk and even saw a goldfinch. They are regular attendees to the birdfeeder at my parents’ house and I was excited to see one on my own turf. I also took notice of the landscaping in my neighbors’ yards, saw plants I’ve never noticed before, and was amazed at the palette of exotic colors in each garden.

When I got home and looked at the sleeping computer, it hit me how much I let it control my life. Even though I don’t currently have an 8:00-5:00 desk job, I sit in front of the computer most of the day constantly refreshing e-mail in case a new one comes through, obsessively checking jobs boards, scanning the headlines in all the news websites so that I’m aware of everything going on in the world, and scrolling through the newsfeed in Facebook to see what my friends are doing. I’ve been so concerned about the lives around me, that I’ve neglected checking in on my own. It’s so easy to get lost in the technological world that sometimes we need reminders to step away and rejoin the world right outside our door.

The more I thought about it, I couldn’t even remember the last time I scanned the night sky for shooting stars or rode the merry-go-round. So, while the computer took an extended nap, I headed to the kitchen to remedy that problem. There might not be a merry-go-round close to my house, but I could make one. And that’s just what I did.

The birthday cake for the month of July was a merry-go-round cake. Before the computer crashed, I looked up pictures to get decoration ideas. There were some amazing cakes online and I quickly realized that I didn’t posses the cake decorating skills to duplicate these intricate pieces of art. But there was an art form with which I am very familiar, even if it’s not edible (well, most people don’t eat it I guess) – paper. After stocking my kitchen with the necessary ingredients, I went on a hunt to find the other items for my cake. At Party City I found the animals, which turned out to be mostly safari animals with a moose to represent Minnesota and a polar bear thrown into the mix. And from my ever-expanding paper collection, I found two patterns which I felt would be a good match to the animals that I could use for the canopy.
The top of the canopy

Underneath the canopy

While the cake was in the oven, I retired to the basement where I have my art room. After experimenting with several designs for the paper canopy, I chose a circle the diameter of the cake, then cut it into pie pieces and supported it with lollipop sticks (purchased at JoAnn Fabric). Sitting at my craft desk working on the canopy felt really good and I realized how long it had been since I’d worked on art projects. I made a mental note to reacquaint myself with my art supplies then went back upstairs to decorate the cake.

The cake itself is a white cake, but it appears more light and spongy almost as if it were a white cake/angel food cake hybrid.

The frosting included with the recipe is a rich, chocolate frosting, not boiled, that matches the taste of the cake perfectly. When I made the frosting, it was a little thin so I added an extra ½ cup of powdered sugar and that seemed to do the trick.

Once the cake was frosted, it was time to decorate it. The lollipop sticks were attached to the paper canopy top with push pins, then gently inserted into the cake. When it was firmly in place, it was time to match up the animals and position them in the merry-go-round.

After it was all complete, the basic chocolate-frosted cake had been transformed into a fun and exciting animal adventure. It wasn’t the most beautiful or exotic merry-go-round cake I’ve ever seen, but it was fun to make and staring at it reminded me of carefree, whimsical childhood afternoons.

That weekend, my husband and I were provided with another opportunity to take a walk when my car died about two miles from our house, leaving us stranded with recently purchased pasta salad and a full tank of gas that we had just filled for the lawn mower. This is the third time in three months that my car has done this and, of course, mechanics can provide no explanation. We pushed the car to a safe location then began the long, hot trek home. The first few minutes were spent cussing out the car, along with any and all technical problems we had recently endured. But then we started talking about happier topics, began taking notice of things along the path we had only ever driven by and never been close enough to actually see. I was reminded of Murphy and the way he carefully inspected every spec of the path we walked on. Aside from Ryan constantly having to shift the gas can between arms as one went numb and my choice to wear flip flops that morning, it was a pleasant walk and forced us to take the time to have deep conversation rather than talking at each other in passing as we rush from one daily task to the next. Two hours later, after my car had time to rest, we drove Ryan’s car back to gas station and sure enough, my car started on the first try.

This week, the computer also decided to wake up from its deep slumber. All the data was quickly dumped onto an external drive. Although it isn’t completely working at full capacity and has a tendency to throw a tantrum and shut itself down at times, it’s useable. I’ve been bouncing between my temperamental laptop and my 10+ year old desktop that takes approximately 15 minutes to switch between programs (if it will do it at all). But the combination of the two has me back in business and I’ve just needed to learn a little patience in order to deal with my ailing machines.

Once the car was tucked safely in the garage and the laptop was in the process of backing up all of my data, Ryan and I sat down to a generous slice of merry-go-round cake with a heaping scoop of vanilla ice cream. Remember how I said this cake looks light and airy? It isn’t. It’s dense and moist and utterly delicious. The combination of cake + chocolate frosting + ice cream made me feel like a kid again, a final reminder in a long week of wake-up calls to hold onto that feeling where everything is new and exciting and an adventure.

I was recently introduced to the Latin term solvitur ambulando, which means “it is solved by walking” (some translations I found were slightly different in wording, but mean the same thing). I found this serendipitous encounter with this ancient phrase to be the final cog in my wheel of lessons for the past two weeks. I felt the universe was trying to send me a signal to slow down, take a step back and truly be aware. I guess I didn’t realize how disconnected I was from myself until I became technologically disconnected from the world around me. Of course, now that the computer is back up and running and I have an internet connection again, I’m reading the newspaper online and checking e-mail constantly. But I’m remembering to listen to the crows as they attempt to learn human language and when Murphy stops to smell every light post along our walk, I take that time to take a deep breath, try to identify the flowers blooming in the neighborhood gardens and keep that feeling alive of riding in circles on fiberglass merry-go-round horses.

I may not have solved all the world’s problems during the walks I’ve taken in the past few weeks, but at least I feel that I’m finally walking through the world with my eyes wide open. And the other night, I took the time to sit outside with Murphy and stare into the night sky. As I watched the million-year old flickering lights and tried to recall the names of the constellations, I saw a shooting star briefly blaze across the black sky. I haven’t seen a shooting star in years and was so excited that I completely forgot to make a wish. Then I realized I didn’t need to, that seeing the brilliant streak of light was itself a wish come true. But just in case I still had time to get a wish in, I quickly sent a message to the sky that a new computer and a reliable car would be pretty nice too, but promised not to let go of the lessons the universe had thrown in my lap over the past few weeks. Although I appreciate all the opportunities to apply solvitur ambulando, I’d prefer to do it on my own terms and not when my computer or car decides to leave me stranded.


  1. Oh! what a wonderful cake! I hear you on the vehicle issues. Cars are trouble!