Thursday, October 15, 2009

Breaking News: Here Come the Stud Muffins!

I had less than a week to coordinate four baking segments for KTLA Morning News. The week became a blur of little glass ingredient dishes, sample muffins, custom aprons, phone calls, e-mails to Studs and Allie Mac Kay, demo scripts, and decorations to make our baking area pretty. The latter was created with the help of my wonderful and creative mother-in-law, Barbara, who helped me put together an eye-pleasing display for very little money. I am always in awe of her talent and appreciation of my dwindling budget.

One of the e-mails from Allie Mac Kay included directions to the L.A. Times Test Kitchen, where we would be filming that morning, along with our call time: Five o’clock. In the A.M. As in before dawn. As in reeeeeeally early. Would I be willing to lose a couple hours of sleep for my dream? You betcha. Who needs sleep when Hollywood’s calling? My only concern was if the Studs would look puffy. Turns out I forgot that when you’re in your twenties, puffy doesn’t compute. I was going to be the one in need of the industrial-sized under-eye reducer.

The week flew by and as the day of the show approached, so did one of the biggest storms of the winter. Now, if you don’t live in Southern California, you may poo-poo a story of a rainy day. But we So Cal residents freak out when any kind of precipitation even threatens to leave the sky. Every news station jumps to “Storm Watch!” For me, the thought of driving to L.A. on a dark, stormy morning was very nerve-rattling. But, our photographer, Tammy planned on being my co-pilot that morning, so at least I wouldn’t be alone.

Somehow, I was able to get completely ready and packed by the night before, to the sounds of a torrential downpour outside my garage. Then the phone rang. It was Tammy, who lives in the beautiful town of Lake Arrowhead, high in the local mountains. She explained that the clouds that were pouring rain on me at the base of the mountains were dumping foot upon foot of snow on her. My co-pilot was now trapped in a winter wonderland, and I was facing one of my greatest fears: dark, wet L.A. freeways—alone.

I went to bed around midnight and set the alarm for 2:30 AM, with plans on getting out of the house within an hour. I really don’t think I slept, partly from the sound of the rain and partly for fear I wouldn’t hear the alarm. I just kept worrying that I’d wake up at 8:00, turn on the Morning News and see my Studs sadly standing there, with nary a baking item in sight.

I got up before the alarm, and at half past three exactly, I fired up my van and opened the garage door, expecting to pull out to a rain deluge. Once again, the Stud Muffin Angels had pity on my, and the rain had completely stopped. In fact, I could even see bright stars peeking out from the breaking clouds. (Insert “The Halleluiah Chorus” here.) Then, the calm, authoritative voice on my GPS told me to turn left, and I was on my way. The day was off to a great start.

As I got on the freeway, another of my fears reared its head: a traffic jam. The drive to L.A., about 50 miles, has been known to be a real bear, taking many hours as hundreds of thousands of people clog the roads to inch westward. Little did I know, however, that NOBODY was on the road at that time of the morning. It looked like the Twilight Zone had taken over the 605 Freeway. I veritably flew toward the downtown area.

I reached the L.A. Times building in record time, but then I hit another glitch. I was supposed to park in a nearby lot, but for the life of me, I couldn’t find it. I drove around the very dark and deserted block a few times, but no luck. I pulled over to the side of the road to call one of the Studs to see if he had found the place when I saw a car approach slowly from behind, then stop a few feet from my back bumper. I quickly looked around. There was no one else in sight. My heart started beating faster. In my head, I suddenly heard the voiceover man as he described a bad slasher movie: “Alone. On the dark streets of L.A. In a van loaded with muffin ingredients, he attacked her with her own muffin tin...”

I took one last look out my side door mirror as I watched the car door behind me opened. As a large figure stepped out, I threw the car into drive and prepared to gun it. The figure walked into the light and a split-second before I peeled out of there, unwilling to be on the Morning News for the wrong reason, I recognized the face of one of my models, who was equally lost. It was either that, or slashers are getting much more handsome.

Together, we drove around and eventually found the parking garage. Then, like synchronized Studs, several cars full of hunky models converged almost simultaneously into adjacent spaces. I did a quick head count, and everyone was there and willing to help me haul all the baking stuff to the kitchen. It’s sure nice to have a half-dozen or so strapping young men handy.

We all piled into the one elevator to take us to the test kitchen. As the door was closing, a voice called out to hold up. It was cute Allie Mac Kay, who was dwarfed by all the hunky guys. She commented on how she didn’t mind being in this kind of cramped elevator. I wholeheartedly agreed. Stud sandwiches are nice.

I quickly set up for the first baking demonstration in the lovely L.A. Times Test Kitchen. Allie then suggested that I take some of the muffins to the TV studio, a few miles away, so that the on-air people could sample them as we did the live broadcast. So, back into the early darkness I went, now driving strictly on verbal directions. It was a little intimidating, as downtown LA is not my turf, but I was very proud of myself when I saw the gates of the station loom in front of me.

After I gave the muffins to the guard, I headed back to the Test Kitchen. By now, the sun was just rising on a crystal clear, newly rain-washed city that was starting to come to life. As I drove, I passed the beautiful Disney Concert Hall, an incredible structure of reflective surfaces that shot the morning light in all directions. It was gorgeous, and I remembered thinking how incredible it was that I not only got to see that, but that I was minutes away from another unbelievable opportunity that this book had afforded me. We were going to be on live TV! It boggled my mind at that moment. Also, I was equally boggled with the fact that I was navigating downtown L.A. without the voice of the GPS. Just little ol’ me, the sunrise, and pure joy.

The segments went flawlessly. They were full of laughter, double-entendres, and kind words of praise from Allie and the in-studio talent (Michaela Pereira, Frank Buckley, Cher Calvin, and a hysterically uncomfortable Mark Kriski.) And the Studs were amazing. You would have thought they were all seasoned TV actors, as they baked, chatted, and flirted through the baking demos. I am so fortunate to have these wonderful men involved in this project, and I couldn’t have been prouder of them!

I also had my fifteen seconds of fame, although I honestly didn’t think I’d be on camera, as the focus was on the Studs (as it should have been.) I was off to the side washing the baking dishes when Allie suddenly pulled me into one of the segments for a brief interview. I looked like a deer caught in headlights, as I stood there with wet, soapy hands. I think I said something coherent, and then I ducked out again to still my pounding heart. I’ve decided I’m much happier behind the camera, even if it means dishpan hands.

It had been a long morning, but it ended all too soon. Before I knew it, I was back on the freeway, this time in daylight, and heading east. By the time I made it home, fatigue hit like a truckload of muffins. I turned on the DVD player, crashed on the couch, and watched the taped Morning News until I drifted off to dreams of starry nights, giant muffins, glistening sunrises, and handsome slashers who morphed into hunky bakers. Yes, it was a very sweet dream.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Auntie Em! Uncle Henry! Allie Mac Kay!

(First, let me preface this posting by stating the obvious: I have been a really bad blogger of late. I’ve been meaning to write more. Honestly. But life has a funny way of getting the best of my free time. So if there are any of you out there waiting to see what happened next in the Stud Saga, just consider my ploy to be a really protracted cliff-hanger…)

I continued to berate myself over the missed opportunity with Bonnie Hunt. I replayed the episode in my head over and over, re-writing what I should have said, what I should have done until the final version had me just dazzling her with my wit and charm, and Bonnie booking us for the next day’s show. Oh, if real life could be revised so easily. I can’t tell you how many scenes from my past would have a very different ending. There was this one time at a high school dance…but I digress.

Then one day, the most amazing chance for redemption flung itself at me. I had just returned from dropping my son at school after his EARLY orthodontist appointment (who sees patients at 7:35 AM?!) and was grabbing some breakfast. I turned on the KTLA Morning News out of Los Angeles to get caught up on the day’s happenings. Not listening too intently, I grabbed a banana, but then stopped mid-peel when I heard a female’s voice say, “I’m here in Rancho Cucamonga…” This was my home town. This was a town you don’t hear on the news too often. I dropped the banana and ran to the TV, grabbing it on either side as if to make sure it didn’t suddenly fall off the counter or spin wildly out of control. Yes, I am the epitome of rationality.

On the screen was Allie Mac Kay, the pretty and funny field reporter for the Morning News. I had often seen her on the news and I would wish, hope, pray that maybe she could one day do a story about us. Her personality and spirit of fun would be a perfect fit. And now, she was telling me (and yes, I believe she was talking directly to me) that she was less than 10 minutes away at the Bass Pro Shop at Victoria Gardens, and that she was doing one more segment from the store in one hour.

My mind raced. I HAD to get over there and meet her. She HAD to see the book. And, oh, she HAD to have a sample of the muffins to taste. The plan was instantaneously set in motion.

What ensued could have been a scene from one of those screwball comedies of the 20’s. I literally ran to my oven to preheat, and then leapt to the pantry where I began grabbing ingredients for the Wake Me Up muffins. Containers of flour, sugar, coffee, chocolate, sugar, and baking soda were precariously piled upon themselves as I silently prayed that I didn’t drop them before I reached the counter. (Have you ever dropped a five-pound bag of sugar? I have, and it took HOURS to clean up. I think sugar crystals have the equivalent scientific formula of super balls. They were everywhere.) Measuring cups flew, spoons spun, and flour poofed as I watched the clock tick down. My heart was racing so fast you’d think I was trying to concoct the antidote for the poison derived by an evil mastermind bent on destroying the world.

Within six minutes I had a batch of muffins baking in the oven. Then I had to get myself to look presentable. Granted, I had already been out in public that day, so I was out of my PJs, but truth be told, I don’t get too fixed up for the orthodontist. So I cranked up the curling iron, ripped one of my (three) nicer outfits from the closet, and put on some makeup. Luckily, because of the speed of my endeavors, I could forego the blush. My face was already beet red from the exertion.

I heard the timer go off and I ran back downstairs. I had less than a half an hour to get to the Bass Pro Shop and create my own destiny. I held my breath as I opened the oven door. There had only been a few baking catastrophes throughout this whole book experience, and I just hoped this wasn’t going to be one of those times. If the muffins had failed, my quest would have ended, then and there. However, the baking gods were on my side that day, as the muffins were absolutely beautiful. I disregarded the cooling instruction from the recipe and the risk of first-degree burns as I removed the muffins from the tin and placed them on a pretty platter. My confidence was building with each second. This just might happen.

I stilled my shaking hand enough to write a personal inscription to Allie in one of the books, grabbed the still-warm platter of muffins and my keys, and ran to the garage. Fifteen minutes left. Then, I did something that I should know by now will jinx me every time: I got smug. “Hah!” I said to myself. “I’m going to pull this off!” With a triumphant flourish, I pushed the garage door opener and waited as the door lifted slowly, like the curtain on my personal Broadway performance. “Allie Mac Kay, here I come!” It was at that precise moment that the Santa Ana winds picked up and struck with such force that I nearly lost my muffins.

If you don’t live in Southern California, let me try to describe a Santa Ana wind. Every year, from about Halloween to Valentine’s Day, we experience a frequent weather condition where masses of hot air over the desert meet up with masses of cold air. Somewhere, in that mix-up, the wind direction quickly changes from a gentle west-to-east ocean breeze to an east-to-west torrent of relentless hell that can last for days. Wind speeds can reach 70 mph or more. Trees rip from the ground. Big rig trucks topple on the freeway. We once found an above-ground swimming pool in our backyard, but no nearby neighbor had one missing. Another time, our trashcan traveled the length of our block and was only stopped when it was severely wedged between two parked cars. There is no hairspray known to man that can maintain a do. Lip gloss is a serious error in judgment, as flying dirt and debris become stuck to your face, like flypaper gone wrong. Cats need Velcro on their feet to stay earthbound.

So I battled to get into the van like Dorothy trying to get into her farmhouse before the twister hit. I finally got all my parts and pieces inside and pulled the door closed. With trepidation, I pulled down my visor where there’s a little mirror. To no surprise, my hair was now sticking straight up. But I didn’t take the time to fix it, because I realized it would be wasted energy. I still had to get out of the van again.

Possibly speeding a bit, I got to the Bass Pro Shop in less than seven minutes. I figured I had a ten-minute window, at best, to talk to Allie. I took a deep breath, put on my smile, pulled on the van door handle, and pushed.

It didn’t budge.

The wind had now picked up so much speed that I couldn’t force the door open. Noooo! It couldn’t end trapped in a wind-buffeted van! I had come so far!

I tried again, but it was a futile effort. I quickly started the van and re-parked it, facing the opposite direction so that the wind was pummeling the other side. Hah! My jinx might have thought it won, but I outsmarted it! My confidence was back up.

Knowing what was waiting for me outside of the van, I death-gripped my muffins and book, opened the door, and braced myself for the onslaught of air. Just as I expected, the wind hit with such impact that it knocked me back a step or two, but I was now on a quest. I bore down and struggled through the parking lot, looking very reminiscent of those climbers who trudged through blizzard conditions to get to the top of the mountain. If they could get to the top of Everest, I was going to get to the front door of the Bass Pro Shop.

After what seemed hours, I manage to reach the door and fight it open. I stepped inside to find the store greeter; an older woman with a kind smile. “Welcome to Bass Pro Shop,” she said sweetly.

“Where’s Allie Mac Kay?” I blurted out, as I scanned the massive store for a pretty blonde and a camera crew. The greeter looked at me like I was a crazed woman who had escaped the sanitarium with men in white coats with nets in close pursuit, and I don’t blame her. With my wild hair and wild eyes, I believe I fit the bill at that moment.

I kept looking around, but I didn’t see any sign of a newscast going on. “Allie Mac Kay!” I nearly shouted. “The KTLA Morning News! They’re still here, right? Tell me they’re still here!”

“Oh, I don’t know-“, she began, but I didn’t give her a chance to finish her sentence. I took off on a mad dash, veering to the left.

I had never been in this store before, as I’m not quite the sporting type. But it turns out that a lot of people must be because the store is HUGE. So as I frantically ran down aisles of five hundred different types of fishing lures, I began to panic. Allie was nowhere in sight. I asked every salesperson I encountered, but unbelievably, they had no idea what I was talking about. I started to question myself. Did I just imagine I saw her on the news? Was it a show taped earlier? Did I miss her? Had I finally lost my marbles? And if so, did they carry them in this store?

I noticed an elevator and staircase in the center of the store. No time to wait for the elevator, I ascended the stairs at a pace that could trigger heart failure. Again, no Allie and again, no one knew what I was talking about. I’m really surprised they didn’t call security for me, as I was now sweaty, hyperventilating, and I still hadn’t fixed my hair.

I descended the stairs, almost ready to admit defeat, when I realized I hadn’t looked to the far right of the store. I ran in that direction, and lo and behold, there she was, tucked back into one of the corners. She was packing up her stuff and saying goodbye. If I had been a minute later, she would have been gone. But luck/fate/destiny took pity on me that day.

I finally took a half-second to fix my hair, and then I rushed up to her. In retrospect, I probably rushed a bit too quickly, because the look in Allie’s eyes when she saw me coming was a cross between fear and a mental inventory as to where her mace was at that moment. Somehow, I was able to quickly introduce myself, show her the book, and offer the platter of muffins.

Then (insert angels singing here) a miracle happened: She smiled. She giggled. She said, “Could you do a baking demo on the show next week?”

We exchanged contact information and scheduled a date for our appearance. I thanked her endlessly in a very short span of time, and then she was gone. I was left standing there in that giant store, next to the 27 different kinds of mosquito repellent for probably ten minutes, just smiling. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. I didn’t have to rewrite any part of it. It played out as perfectly as I could have ever imagined. We were going to be on TV, and I made it happen.

I finally left the store with the huge smile still plastered on my face. As I made my way to the van that day I didn’t even notice the twister-like winds attacking me. In my mind, I was already in the Wonderful Land of Oz.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Oh Bring Back My Bonnie (Hunt) to Me

The models were getting recognized everywhere they went, and my business card was being received with an, “Oh, I’ve heard of this book!” While we were enjoying our celebrity status, albeit on the local level only, we began yearning for bigger audiences. We knew where to go. It was time for a field trip to the City of Angels (aka the City of TV Land.)

The Bonnie Hunt Show had just started production, and I had been watching since day one. The more I watched, the more I enjoyed the show and thought we would be a great fit on it. Bonnie is a very fun and charming talk show host, and I could just envision our bunch of hunks helping her conduct a fun and sexy baking segment. We decided this would be our first stop.

Photographer Tammy and I loaded into my MomMobile and drove out to the Culver City Studios. We brought one of the books wrapped as a gift for Bonnie, along with a note describing our desire to be guests on her show. It was left at the security table, but not until the female guard took a quick peek and gave it an appreciative giggle. Now all we could do was hope she would like the book and our pitch.

I also brought along some extra copies which were passed around (thanks to Tammy’s fearless promotion) to all the ladies waiting in line outside the studio. The response was very positive, and I was starting to feel good about the very real possibility of being invited on a national talk show.

We were eventually led into the studio and seated in the back row. I was hoping to be closer—I’m not sure why I thought that would be better; as if I thought Bonnie would see us in the crowd and stop the show and call out, “There they are! The creators of that amazing new cookbook! Come on down and I’ll interview you right now!” I do know how irrational that sounded, as she would not have even had the chance to see the book we left for her, but it was a nice dream, just the same.

The show started with Bonnie Hunt coming out with her beloved dog, Charlie. Both were adorable, for obviously different reasons. She is a big animal lover and public advocate of shelter pet adoptions, and for that fact alone she has me as a devoted fan. (If you’ve been reading all my blogs, you’ll remember that I used to work at a Humane Society and had to euthanize animals. By far the saddest thing I’ve ever had to do.) Her guests that day were Milos Ventimiglia from “Heroes”, TV icon Cheryl Ladd, who looked amazingly stunning, and a fun fashion show for pets. Throughout the show, we got a whole bunch of free stuff, from hot dogs to an iPod docking station. It was a great time.

Then the show ended. We started getting ready to go, but unbeknownst to us, Bonnie took the time to walk through the audience and thank everyone for coming (classy move!) As she started up our aisle first, I knew this was our chance to meet her and introduce her to the book in person. With each step she took toward us, I knew she was on a beeline path to fulfilling our destiny.

Tammy nudged me to get an extra copy of the book out of my bag and have it ready. Bonnie took a few more steps up the aisle, and my heart started pounding and my mind started reeling. “Tell her about the adorable models,” I told myself. She came closer. “Tell her that we could conduct a killer baking segment, full of fun and double entendres,” I mentally noted. She was now two rows away. “Oh, and tell her that we can provide free books for the studio audience,” I reminded myself.

And then she walked up to me. First, I have to say that the camera doesn’t do her enough justice. She’s a beautiful woman, and she has a warm, genuine smile. It’s no wonder that she a well-loved celebrity.

Now there was this movie star that I had seen and admired most of my adult life on the big screen standing directly in front of me. She was in 3-D as she shook my hand and looked me straight in the eye. My moment had come. I took a deep breath, ready to impress and intrigue her with the wonderfulness that is Stud Muffins, and then the unthinkable happened: I froze.

It’s hard to write this, even after time has passed and I should have forgiven myself by now, but I still can’t believe I said nothing. My brain completely emptied of all the clever things I was going to say. I didn’t even pick up the book from my lap and hold it up like a Kindergartener on show-and-tell day. I just shook her hand and possibly grunted something in her general direction.

And then she was gone.

I remember sitting there in stunned silence for a few moments. Then I turned to Tammy, who was looking back at me in complete shock. “What just happened?” I said in an almost inaudible gasp. But I knew what happened—I let an opportunity of a lifetime slip from my hands, literally.

By now, Bonnie had wound her way to the far side of the audience, and then, like the fading last scene of one of her movies, she was gone. The audience was quickly whisked out of the studio and herded toward the parking lot. I kept looking around, hoping against all hope that maybe she would be at the gate to give us a final goodbye hug, and I would have a chance to redeem myself. But sadly, the only thing at the gate was the exit sign. The trip home was a subdued one.

The only good thing that happened that day was that I had an epiphany--I would never, ever let a chance like that get away from me again. And as luck (or fate) had it, it wasn’t long before another amazing opportunity presented itself. This time, I vowed not to repeat The Bonnie Hunt Debacle. All it took was some speed baking, a battle against 70 mph winds, and a hundred yard dash through a Bass Pro Shop…

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Stud Muffins for Me and YouTube

So we’d been featured on TV, on the radio, and in several newspapers. There was one final frontier: YouTube.

Andrea, our lovely agent, suggested we create a short video about the book that could be embedded on the phenomenon that is YouTube. I was very excited about this, as screenwriting has always been my first love. In fact, I’ve attended many screenwriting classes and have written several (unproduced) movie scripts, so the chance to write something that was guaranteed to be produced was too cool. And while Antonio Banderas or George Clooney never returned my calls, my models were a fabulous second choice to star in my Muffin Extravaganza.

I played with a couple of ideas for the video, from a documentary format to a fake newscast. I wrote several drafts, but there was something about them that just wasn’t working for me. I needed inspiration.

Then, in probably the most inappropriate place, it hit. We were sitting in church, quietly waiting for Mass to start, and the whole piece just started playing in my head. I truly doubt it was divinely inspired, as I don’t think my need for a YouTube script about hunky guys in a kitchen is high on His agenda. I think the moment of forced quiet gave my brain a chance to clear away the clutter of daily life. My only concern is that I would forget it before the last amen. Luckily I didn’t, and I frantically scribbled the rough draft in the church parking lot.

My story involved a variety of actors (not me—I’m much happier behind a camera than in front of it). I am beyond blessed to have a bunch of friends who were so generous to donate their talents and Boston terriers to this project. And so, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the cast, in order of appearance: Hobbs the dog as the Dog; my kids as the Kids; the amazing Thad (aka Mr. T.) who had double duty as the Husband and Narrator, Sheri, my Jazzercise instructor and owner of Hobbs as the Wife, and Ryan and Branden as the Studs in the kitchen. They were so good and funny. Thank goodness the music and narration were added in post production, because all you could hear in the raw video was me giggling in the background.

I’d also like to thank Tammy, the photographer for the book who doubled as the videographer and editor of this project, as she was both fabulous and affordable--attributes that I appreciated more than she will ever know.
Thanks also go to my friend Karen, who allowed us to use her lovely dining room that was prominently featured in the video. I would have used mine, but my milk-stained table with the plastic placemats didn’t quite scream “formal”.

Finally, I’d like to thank the Academy for this award. (Okay, I know this part doesn’t really fit. But I’m keeping it here for future reference, just in case…)

So without any further ado, I present (drum roll, please) the STUD MUFFIN VIDEO!

Note: No animals of any species were harmed in the making of this video. However, poor Hobbs was tormented to no end by the bowl of yummy muffins placed in front of him that he wasn't allowed to eat. We edited out the drool.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

When Hand Cramps are Fun

Some of the most fun we’ve had has been at the book signings. We’ve set up our table of books, muffin samples, and always several studs at over a dozen Barnes & Noble Booksellers from Corona to the Grove in Los Angeles, along with several wine tastings, fashion shows, and vendor fairs. All were exciting, as we were treated as celebrities of sorts—people asking for our autographs, people bringing us drinks, people acting impressed by our book. At each, I just kept thinking, “But I’m just a lowly ex-Catholic school teacher. Are you sure you’re talking to me?”

If I had to choose my favorite signing so far, it would have to be the Barnes & Noble in Rancho Cucamonga. Not only is this my hometown, but it was scheduled for the evening of the KCAL newscast (yes, that was a very busy and exciting day!) so word was out that we would be there. When I arrived, I was escorted to the signing area that had been set up toward the middle of the store. As I turned the corner, I saw something that took my breath away: A line of people. And not just a line, but a roped off line, like you would see at Disneyland. There was actually a need for rope! Whoo-hooo!

Quite a few of the models were able to attend this event as well, so store manager eventually had to set up three tables to accommodate all of us. For two hours straight we had people waiting, book in hand, evidently thrilled to have us scribble our names on the pages. Once again, I paused a half-second to take it all in, and it became overwhelming. I choked back the tears, partly because I didn’t want to look like a total dork in the middle of a Barnes and Noble, and partly because I was still wearing the false eyelashes from the TV interview, and I was afraid they’d start to melt off, mid-signature. But it was memorable moment that is forever burned into my mental scrapbook.

Another fun memory of that night came about halfway through the event. Lee, our Secret Center Muffin man, who had been featured on the newscast, had stepped a few feet from the table to take a short break. From the front of the store came a loud and very excited female voice yelling, “There he is!” The owner of the voice came charging across the store and stopped directly in front of him. Suddenly, she dropped to one knee and blurted, “Will you marry me?!” Lee, in his calm and unassuming way, helped her up to her feet, thanked her, and quickly pointed out his wife, Mairi who was nearby and laughing. I’m just thankful that both Lee and Mairi have been such good sports about all of this. Stud Muffins’ goal is to make people happy, not break up marriages.

I don’t think I’ve ever signed my name so many times in such a short period of time. There was a point were we had three events in a span of a week and a half, and while very thrilling, it finally took its toll. Shortly after the last one, I had to sign a credit card slip at a store. Without thinking, I did it with my fancy signature flourish I had practiced for the book, handed the slip back to the store clerk and said, “Thank you, and I hope you enjoy it.” When she gave me a strange look, I realized what I had just said. Embarrassed, I didn’t take the time to explain my response. I just took my bag and left quickly.

Hmm, I wonder if Rachael Ray has ever done that when she was buying her jumbo pack of toilet paper at Walmart?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Lights! Camera! False Eyelashes!

I barely had a chance to catch my breath from the radio interview when I got a call from KCAL news, which is a Los Angeles-based station affiliated with CBS. They heard about our book and asked if we would like to be featured on their newscast later that week. Would we like that? How about, “Would we love that?" “Would we adore that? “Would we do cartwheels down the main street of town, if we knew how?” Those would be the better questions. Between heart palpitations, I booked the gig.

They originally wanted to film it in my kitchen where the book got its start. While I have a decent sized kitchen, it is rather nondescript, along with being long and narrow. The thought of trying to comfortably squeeze in a bunch (herd? gaggle? pod?) of studs plus cameramen and a reporter gave me serious pause. To the rescue came a wonderful friend (thanks, Val!) who had an equally wonderful friend (thanks, Cindy!) with a gorgeous, huge, Tuscan-inspired kitchen. Problem solved.

The week became a whirlwind of muffin baking, clothes shopping, stud scheduling, demo preparing (think many little glass bowls filled with ingredients, a la any Food Network cooking show) and lots of jitters. The time flew, and the day arrived before I knew it. Ready or not, we were going to be on TV. Holy guacamole.

I arrived at the surrogate house an hour before the news crew was due and started unloading what felt like a small bakery. There were already quite a few people inside buzzing around, and the excitement was almost palpable. I spent several minutes setting up the demonstration area, putting out fresh muffins for “the magic of TV” baking—the ones that would be pulled out of the oven immediately after mixing the ingredients—and warning everyone not to eat the muffins that were being used for decoration, as they were over a week old and beyond stale, but still presentable for the camera.

Now it was my turn to become presentable for the camera, as I, too was over a week old and beyond stale. We hired a professional makeup artist, and I watched through the mirror as she applied layers of concealers, foundations, creams, and shadows (I believe I saw her dip into a vat of spackle from Costco to help camouflage my wrinkles.) The final touch was the application of false eyelashes, which I have never worn. They felt so weird, as if someone parked a pair of spiders on my lids, but I was told they were necessary as the camera lights would fade out my normal puny lashes. Heaven forbid I offend the viewing public by making them look at someone with less than lush lashes. (Side note: When I went home later that day, they scared my young daughter, who kept her distance and said repeatedly, “Mama, take them off!” So much for my critics.)

Cater Lee, the reporter from KCAL arrived, along with her cameraman, and the next two hours were a blur of sound checks, lighting adjustments, pre-camera interviews, and then the final taping. As with the radio experience, I had a head full of clever quips and smooth comments I wanted to say. What came out was completely not what I practiced. It was if I was outside my body, watching someone else answer the questions. What the--?! I asked Ms. Lee if I could have a do-over, but she insisted that what I said was just fine.

It was now nearing 11:00, and our piece was scheduled to be aired at 12:40. Ms. Lee and the cameraman quickly left and went as far as their van parked out front. When they didn’t leave right away, I went out to see if they were all right. Turns out that they had a full-fledged editing bay in the van, and they were cutting the film and laying down the voiceovers in the driveway. Modern technology is so amazing.

I went back inside to repack my small bakery and help clean up. The wonderful homeowner was kind enough to invite all of us to stay and watch the broadcast on a massive big screen TV in her beautiful home. When she brought out some champagne, it sealed the deal. I stayed.

She turned on the TV at noon, and we went about the last minute clean-up with champagne goblets in hand. I remember thinking that I should always clean the house this way, but then decided it might become very counterproductive very quickly. As we listened to the top stories, the traffic report, and the weather forecast, our excitement began to grow. Then, around 12:20, the worst possible thing happened. We stood in stunned horror as the studio reporters said the words that brought dread to our hearts: “We have breaking news of a police pursuit in South Los Angeles.” Noooooooooooooo!

Now, for those of you who do not live in the Southern California area, this is when ALL news comes to a screeching halt as some fool driver thinks he can outrun a squadron of police cars on his tail and a tracking news helicopter over his head. These things can drag out for hours, as the driver and his tails swerve in and out of (or against oncoming) traffic. And once the cameras have latched on to this pursuit, they will not break away until the fool driver crashes or is caught. That day, the world could have come under nuclear attack, and the cameras would have still been honed on the 1978 maroon Pinto on the 405 until the bitter end.

So there we sat, drinks still in hand and watching the clock tick closer to our 12:40air time. We suddenly became very ardent and vocal supporters of the police department as we yelled at the screen, “Cut him off at El Segundo!” “Use the frigging spike strip!” “It’s a Pinto, for heaven’s sake! Just plow him off the road!” The longer the chase went on, the louder we got. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the alcohol. It was just that we worked so hard for this moment. Okay, maybe the alcohol might have figured in a bit. But we were so close to getting on TV.

Then, the Muffin gods took pity on us, and we watched with great relief as the fool driver wiped out onto a patch of grass at 12:30. We gave a hearty cheer, but that was quelled quickly when the fool driver exited his car and became a fool runner. We were now on our feet, screaming at the pursuing officers to get him! Get him NOW! It seemed an eternity, but the officers finally caught up to the fool runner and tackled him to the ground. It was like we just watched the final play in the Superbowl where we had a huge bet placed on the winning team. We cheered. We hugged. We high-fived. We had even more champagne. It was a great moment.

So we were not bumped from the newscast after all. As our two-and-a-half minute segment played in all its big screen glory, which was a succinct mixture of interviews, baking demonstration, and description of the book, I was struck by three thoughts: 1.) My models looked and sounded great on camera, and I am so blessed to have them as a part of this crazy project, 2.) I guess Costco spackle can’t conceal that second chin I’ve tried to pretend I didn’t have; 2.) A dream come true cannot be quashed, not even by an L.A. car chase.

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