When Bag Lady was a little girl, her grandmother used to sneak her all the impractical shoes BL’s mother wouldn’t let her have.

As in, “These 2-inch clogs are just between us.”

Who wouldn’t adore a woman like that?

So as Grand-Bag comes up on a milestone birthday, it only seemed right to forgo a store-bought cake and make one instead. A marvelously grand, beautifully decorated cake befitting such a sly, fun, shoe-loving, adorable woman as she is.

However.

Neither Bag Lady nor Shopping Siren has ever pulled off a fab, party-worthy birthday cake before.

Suddenly we had choices. Decisions. Things to learn. Like: Frosting or icing gel? Sheet or layer? And how, exactly, does one write “Happy Birthday” on a cake without it looking like a kindergarten art project?

And of course we wanted to pull it off for half the price of a store-bought-and-decorated cake. (Our personal nod to having your cake and eating it, too.)

To the baking aisle!

• Gel icing pens by Wilton, Craft Mania, $1.29-$1.49
Polka dot-up white cake frosting. So easy! We can make frosting dots. We could work in a frosting dot factory, even. For like, a day. Then we’d get bored.

Pair with:

• “100 & Wonderful!” Hallmark napkins and plates, Craft Mania, $2.02 and up
Bright, polka dotted napkins to match the cake theme! Also in the series: “40 & Fabulous!” and “80 & Excellent!” Finally, a little positive affirmation. We like that in our dinnerware.

• Numeral candles, Reed Party Stores, 79 cents each
Sure, you want to adorn grandma’s cake with points of flame directly proportionate to the number of years she’s graced the world, but let’s face it, birthday candles become a bit of a fire hazard after 12 or so. An option: number candles. Grab a seven and a nine to make 79, an eight and a two to make 82, a nine and a — well, you get the idea. Just don’t count on any round numbers. Reed happened to be out of zeros. (Though for 99 cents you could buy a question mark.)

• Dessert Decorator Pro by Wilton, Bed Bath & Beyond, $24.99
Easily blows our less-than-half budget, but can be used again and again for cream puffs, meringue and veggie cream filled-pastries. Only not all at once. Ew.

• Wilton three-piece flower cookie cutter set, Bed Bath & Beyond, $2.19
Borrow an idea from the Wilton cake decorating book: press flower outlines all over the cake and fill them in with fun frosting. Because what could be better than fun frosting flowers? Absolutely nothing.

• Puzzle cake build-a-cake set, Bed Bath & Beyond, $14.99
Concerned about your ability to deal with a whole sheet cake? Try cupcakes! Decorate and fit together to create what looks like a whole cake. Not sure how? This kit will show you! Comes with baking cups exactly the right size and shape to make a fish, turtle or teddy bear. Worried the kit’s too complicated? Then you really need to work on your kitchen self-esteem.

• Tiny rubber ducks, Reed Party Stores, $0.59
Searching for a theme? Go duck! Little rubber ducks as bikers, baseball players, even cowgirls. Place on or around the cake for easy decor. Of note: The redneck duck bin? Empty.

Best find: Wilton cake decoration beginner’s guide, Reed Party Stores, $4.99
Forty-page booklet gives you hints and tips and on baking, icing and decorating. At first we scoffed — “How much for that tiny thing?” — then we cracked it open. Decorating ideas look easy enough for novices. Tips seem helpful. Pictures look delicious.

Think twice: Store-bought cake, anywhere, any price

Don’t get us wrong, BL and SS love a good store-bought cake. A lot. (Enough to need a good store-bought treadmill.) But, hey, a store-bought cake just doesn’t say, “I slaved all day to make this. It was hard. Good thing I love you.” Though we suppose you could pay the cake decorating professionals to write just that in pink frosting across the top.

Basement snake: The end

After two weeks of wondering where my 8-inch foe had disappeared, last Friday evening Bag Lady found the basement snake. It was curled up at the top of the stairs, on the cement lip for the bulkhead door, deader than dead, having died smelling freedom but not being able to reach it.

No question, Bag Lady’s first reaction was to feel horrible. Then I wondered if my karma was screwed. Then, if my basement would be haunted.

I left the bulkhead doors swung open, got out the mower — gingerly keeping an eye on the body — and contemplated all that for the next hour while mowing the lawn (upset, karma, slithering ghost). Actual conversation when Mr. Bag Lady pulled into the driveway:

BL: “I found the snake tonight.”

Mr. BL: “No you didn’t.”

BL: “I did! He’s balled up by the bulkhead, eyes all milky white. He’s toast. I left him for you to clean up. I can’t believe how bad I feel.”

We strolled over somberly. Peered down.

GONE.

That #!(@&! %^! snake was playing possum. The minute I turned my back, the creep had slithered to freedom.

Yes, relieved. Yes, karmically balanced. But nonetheless slightly burned. Oh, you just can’t trust a snake.

Bag Lady and Shopping Siren’s true identities are protected by a pair of stylish, sweater-wearing Doberman pinschers (who love all cake all the time. Good dogs). and the Customer Service counter at the Sun Journal. You can reach them at [email protected] and [email protected]


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