A Story About Gnomes + the BEST Birthday Cake EVER!

Celebrating your birthday for the 2nd year in a row during a pandemic is not how anyone wants to celebrate their birthday, especially when you’re celebrating a milestone. I decided to flip the script and make the most of it anyway. I’m grateful for incredible friends who helped ensure that I had a great one despite not being able to celebrate in person.

I’ve come to learn that life is more about the little moments, and moments of surprise, delight, and joy. My friend Jenni—a professional pastry chef and cake maker—may have won the grand prize for years to come. If you couldn’t gather from the top photo, that’s the cake on the left, and that’s my favorite gnome who served as the inspiration on the right. OMMMMGGGGGG!

Of course we were all masked when the exchange happened, so you couldn’t see my jaw drop when I saw the cake, but you probably could see my eyes bulge out of my head. SUCH JOY! (And I hadn’t thought about it, but now I was able to have a cake reveal on one of my bday Zooms!).

Not only did the gnome cake match his ceramic brother, but Jenni added a banana to his artist palette. For those of you who don’t follow me on social media (@pretavoyager on Twitter + Instagram), you may have missed that I’ve been known to run creative workshops where I have hundreds of people around the world draw maps on bananas (shout out to Swissmiss + CreativeMornings for the permission to do things differently!). So it’s not uncommon to hear the “bring a banana” prompt from me before a Zoom call with me. Only for me could the addition of a banana be such a perfect touch.

Jenni pointed out the risk of a sculptural cake is that no one wants to cut into them. She instructed me how I could cut his backside. It was much less scary that way.

The cake was DELICIOUS and stayed moist until he was gone. She went with a vanilla cake, rhubarb compote and salted caramel buttercream and his hat was chocolate cake with whipped chocolate ganache.

The cake was definitely a new adventure and was big enough that Jenni even had to create a custom box for it he was so tall. (Here’s Jenni with the finished cake!). He was really the perfect size. I was able to share a few slices (which I loved that I could cut them super thin. But I probably ate half of him! By the end he got tired and decided to lay down. HAHA!

So where did the inspiration gnome came from? I bought him at a shop in the Marais c. 2003/4. It was when my aunt and cousin came to visit. They had this special radar when it came to gnome spotting (and they loved spotting Westies too). I’d never much cared nor thought about gnomes until that point, nor had I ever spotted any in Paris, but they changed how I saw the world. They helped make it fun.

I noticed this particular gnome one night while walking home in a shop window on my own while my aunt and cousin were still in town. I knew I had to go back and get them—one for me, and one for them (I think I gave them one with the guitar). He’s traveled with me to Baltimore and Virginia, and then back to Paris in 2011 (yes, he made the cut for important things to put in my suitcase when coming to grad school).

In the spirit of Amélie—one of my all-time favorite movies that came out when I studied abroad in Paris where there is a storyline with a gnome that travels the world to encourage her father to travel—I liked that my gnome could be a reminder to travel, have fun, and embrace my quirky side.

I have to say there’s nothing better than having a gnome smile back at you when you open your fridge!

THANK YOU JENNI for this incredible surprise that more than made my [birth]day, week, month, and year! He’s THE BEST EVER!!!

A few other things that made this birthday the best:

  • Two friends coordinated an effort to have friends send me birthday cards with personal notes. SO MUCH SNAIL MAIL JOY!!! I was incredibly touched, and more cards keep trickling in.
  • I had special deliveries including balloons, and dinner sent to me.
  • I set up a Zoom “flashback virtual tea” with some dear childhood friends I hadn’t seen in 25+ years and invited their moms too. There were also “birthday banana wishes” shared on another virtual celebration.
  • I asked for friends to share favorite Stories on Facebook rather than generic HBD messages. (SO many great old adventures came up.)

It was sad to see my new best friend / roommate go, but this is proof he was good til the last bite!

P.S. If you’re in Paris, I HIGHLY recommend ordering a cake from Jenni for your special occasion. If she can make a gnome cake, she can make anything! Trust me, it’s the little things in life that really can spark joy. You can also follow her as @j_lepoutre and @atelier_l_paris on Instagram.

P.S.S. I’m running my Write Your Own Rules workshop on March 26 & March 28th. It’s a TON OF FUN! In the 2-hour workshop you’ll create your own guiding principles and walk away with your very on rulebook zine.

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