Mr. Pei’s 87th birthday cake + five minute cake decoration show and tell

Today is Mr. Pei’s 87th birthday. I have been studying Tai Chi with Mr. Pei since the beginning of June. Mr. Pei has a lot of mantras that he repeats in each of his classes. One of my favorites is the following: “I am 86. I want to die, but the Tai Chi won’t let me.”

Sometime in November or December, he mentioned that his birthday was January 10th. I realized last week that his birthday actually landed on a Thursday, which is when we meet for class. I decided to clarify that this is true by asking him when is his birthday. First, he told me he was born in Beijing. Then, I asked Tracy, a classmate who is also Chinese, how to say Happy Birthday. I repeated it back to her and then immediately walked over and repeated it to him. He looked at me and smiled. He responded, “Happy Birthday!” I just said no and went to ask Linda to help me with some translation. I told her what I said and they told me that I said “Happy New Year.” So somehow, not having any idea what was coming out of my mouth, I went from saying “Happy Birthday” to “Happy New Year.” Although that was completely wrong, it was a miracle that I didn’t end up saying something totally unrelated like “mashed potatoes.”

Finally we confirmed that yes, Mr. Pei’s birthday is January 10th, which was the following Thursday. At that point, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be in town, but if so I would bake a cake.

Now, I am regularly late to Tai Chi. I understand that this is not going to be surprising to many of you. I love practicing Tai Chi, but it is a bit of a luxury to go and do so. Sometimes other things take priority, like my work, so I end up being a little late. I realized today that I am probably missing out on some of the exercises that would really help me develop strength in my neglected thigh muscles.

Since I was bringing the cake and we really didn’t fully plan anything, I was under a major time crunch. Today I was worried about being late. While I was in the shower, I thought of the perfect cake topping – powdered sugar. I did not have time to run to the market around the corner. And I am not a huge fan of canned icing anyway. Plus, I have no idea about Mr. Pei’s eating habits. Does he like chocolate? Sweets? I don’t think that he is diabetic. But other than that, I didn’t really have a clue.

I drew a large 8 and 7 on a piece of blank paper. This by no means was a perfect sketch. But since no one would see the numbers later on, I just added some roundness on one side and took out some fullness on the other. They still weren’t perfect, but I just started cutting and correcting them with my scissors. Once I cut them out, I arranged the numbers directly on my cake. We received this great mesh sugar shaker as a wedding gift. I just covered the cake with sugar.

Now I did forget to plan for how to remove the numbers, which were also covered with sugar. Since I was in a hurry and I hadn’t practiced my Tai Chi yet, I spilled some sugar throughout my seven. Hmmmm… I tried to be more careful with the eight. But in the future, I will add some kind of loop of tape on top to easily lift the numbers without spilling the sugar everywhere or messing up the nice crisp lines. Lots of people have used doilies for this same process. But don’t forget that a good ol’ sheet of paper and scissors can give you a sweet personalized effect also.

I wish that I had my camera ready when Mr. Pei first saw the cake. I think that he was really happy. One of my favorite quotes, which I have started saying to Henry. “Thank you. That makes me very very happy.”

Happy Birthday, Mr. Pei!

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