In the last blog I forgot to mention Janice and Susannah's diligent window cleaning endeavor. They went at years worth of crap with vigor (really - it was YEARS worth of crap), and managed to get them looking better than we ever imagined. One of the doors has cracked glass - and the rest are quite scratched (so when Rich prices out the cost or replacing the one cracked window, he wants to see how much it would be to replace all of them) - but suddenly, with the windows clean, from the street you could actually see how great the place was looking. It was a huge change in the way things looked from the street. Greatly improving their delight at my insistence that we cover the windows :). WIPE OUT
I did completely agree to the terms that right after the Rotary the paper would come down so that passing foot traffic could start seeing the fruits of our labor and hopefully generate a little buzz. Although I must say, with the windows open over the weekend to be painted and scraped, foot traffic was quite, quite explorative. It seemed like every five minutes people would peek in and want the full tour - fantastic at any other time, but a challenge when the clock is ticking. In fact at one moment a fellow said "can i come in and take a look around", and I said "I will be so happy to show you everything if you wouldn't mind visiting any time after Tuesday"... Larry swooped in and started chatting with the guy, leading him in. Turned out he was the fire marshall. Snaps to Larry.
So. Jo Jo cooking. So Monday morning a great discussion developed as to exactly where and how the food was going to be plated for the rotary. We had always planned on using the managers office as a 'way station' where we would borrow Jean Anne's chaffing dishes to keep things hot. We had originally planned on having everything cooked and ready the day before and then warming it up the day of the event. Well, in the process of clean up, Janice, Rich and Madge felt that the managers office wouldn't really work. So that meant we had to come up with a whole new plan the day before. And we know how I just love change. Eep. Jean Anne had also offered to let us cook everything over there, using the big restaurant oven etc... which would make cooking 40 meatloaves a whole lot speedier. My concern was that I had absolutely no experience putting together a meal for this many people - and I had no idea how to correctly time the food so that it would be ready at the right moment - not cold or not still so hot that the meatloaves smooshed apart when I tried to get them out of the muffin tins.
Our options were: Cook everything at Jean Anne's that morning, bring it all over in large serving dishes, put up a screen at one side of the lobby and do the individual plating there. OR cook everything at Jean Anne's, plate the food in our now empty storefront, and bring it into the lobby plate by plate. At first I felt this whole decision hinged up on whether or not we would have to use the screen. The screen worried me - cuz I thought it would look makeshift and like we weren't really set up properly to be able to do a catered event. (And, I probably also should mention that we've now decided that the managers office is going to be turned into an approved kitchen to make such a process much easier in the future.) Margaret thought it was pure, total and inconceivable madness to try and travel from the storefront to the lobby with plated food - and we'd need to find a way to cover it. She had a point...but I was still concerned about the screen. Eventually I was led to understand that because we'd be bringing the food in through the side door (by the basement stairs) into the lobby, we'd have to have a screen anyway. So - much to everyone's relief, I agreed we should just have the screen and prep all the food behind it. Sigh of relief. I continued to worry about the screen - which of course was COMPLETELY stupid considering that the irrepressible Pegan was at the uphoustering helm. She and Janice took one of the office divider screens which Rich had picked up at an auction, used a single yard of uphoustery fabric which Janice and I had picked up as a sample for possible chair covering...and made a miracle.
This picture doesn't really do it justice (the black fabric doesn't like the flash) - but this thing is SOOOO pretty. I loved it, ate lots of crow, and actually want Madge to make us another which will give us the capacity to totally block off the prep area from any peeking eyes in the future. This thing not only did the trick - it looked fantastic in the room. Brava. And - the screen actually caused what might be our most dramatic casualty to date. In the process of using Larry's pneumatic stapler to attach fabric to the screen (an Eckert use a manual stapler? Pshaw) apparently Margaret stapled the screen not realizing her index finger was right behind it. Apparently, as only an Eckert could do, Margaret managed to rush to the bathroom instantly before the blood started to gush...GUSH...out of her finger to save the carpet. She told me, super casually, 'oh yeah - I think it went through to the bone'. Let's just say if I'd been there they'd be scraping me off the floor with a spatula. As she was spurting all over the bathroom like an extra from a Wes Craven flick apparently she said 'I'll just let it bleed a little to clean it out". To which Janice replied: "Margaret, that's how Washington DIED."
I'm sure it's no surprise to you that a few minutes later, Madge had her ailing digit wrapped in duct tape and paper towels and was back stapling the crap out of that screen. Unstoppable.
So. Now we had a plan. What we still needed was food. Susannah and I spent hours on it while the troops continued to hammer, screw and nail. I have never even come close to cooking for forty people - and, in fact we wanted to cook for fifty to be safe. We had ten pounds of lean hamburger, a zillion eggs, and a truckload of Italian Breadcrumbs. We had a bunch of large mixing bowls, so we figured the best thing to do was make three individual batches of the recipe doubled. So I did all the wet ingredients, and Susannah measured out all the dry and did the smooshing. She, unlike myself, enjoys smooshing hamburger. The biggest job really was all the chopping - thank goodness for the vidalia chopping dohinkus, which kept everything in beautifully tiny cubes, but also saved me losing my mind trying to cut it all by hand. The corn recipe - which, when quadrupled, involved twenty cans of corn of four different varieties, rapidly started to overflow past our container capacity. So we had to get the stuff over to Nick's and use one of Jean Anne's huge plastic containers. When we got there to get started Jean Anne convinced me that I should just let her cook the meatloaves first thing in the morning when she did the scalloped potatoes. She said it wasn't a big deal, and she was a lot more used to having stuff ready at the right moment. So - the plan NOW was that we would get everything prepared (the meatloaves all ready in their muffin tins), put them in her big walk in fridge, and she's pop them in the oven in the morning. Ok. Corn got mixed and put in the fridge. And, after slightly exasperating Susannah with my OCD instructions on perfect meatloaf muffin shaping (well it mattered to MEEE :( ), I left her alone and started decorating the cake. And, also putting in the other two sheet cakes we wanted so that we wouldn't have to CUT the Rotary cake and it could just sit and look pretty. After a couple of hours - those were iced and ready. I wouldn't say it was my greatest cake ever (that circle in the middle is crooked and drove me nuts) - but I was pressed for time - and I think it was still ok. And circles just suck to ice anyway.
Around this time we received word from Alane's husband Chris (the parents of Luke, Pork poster boy) that they could rescue us with our lettered sign issue. Chris' boss, Lanny, after cutting the amazing holes in the mirrors for us, had said if we needed anything else to let him know. Well, this was a tall order, but Margaret thought it couldn't hurt to ASK. If we had the signs all designed we could take them over there and he'd try to whip them out for us. We were originally planning to do the exit signs in plexiglass - but all the others in wood (with the aid of the now-injured carving machine). So, since they were willing to rescue us we thought the best course of action would be to do all of them (men, ladies, exit, private, employees etc.) out of plexi as well. Which meant, Susannah and I were sent to pick up plexiglass (not the easiest thing to find your first go-round in Huntington. All the locals are now reading this and saying "Go to Huntington Glass, moron" well NOW we know that, ok! :) ) and then head up to Chris' place of business. Rich gave us correct directions, but accidentally wrote the wrong business name at the top of the sheet. So I, thinking I was a genius, made things easier by calling information, getting the address of the WRONG business, and programmed it into the GPS. So we found the WRONG place no problem :) Of course we didn't KNOW we were at the wrong Tool and Die company - so imagine if you will a hyperactive harried confirmed bachelor and a voluptious female bounding into a factory with a piece of plexiglass an trying to explain to a total stranger at the WRONG location that they were cutting signs for us. Yah. Awkward. Eventually when I said we were looking for Chris Eckert (yup...another Eckert) the small-town-factor saved our butt... The dude was like "um Chris doesn't work here - I'm not sure where he's at." Ah. Back in the truck and a hysterical phone conversation with Margaret ensued with her having no understanding of where we were or why - but trying to steer us in the right direction. Finally we got the right company name and the right address and arrived at the right place. Chris' boss, Lanny, was absolutely AMAZING. He's this incredibly warm guy who seems to get a real kick out of working on stuff that is out of the ordinary for them... And since they produce aluminum pie plates, to-go boxes and muffin tins for every major chain you can think of... bathroom signs were a unique challenge. I brought all the deco sign lettering as jpegs on a disc. He spent like an hour sitting with Susannah and I, figuring out with AutoCad (a drafting program) exactly how to best produce what we needed. Turned out we didn't have the right kind of plexi, so he said we could just have excess scrap they had around the place, and then we tried out a test. Even though he said he'd have them all done for us in a couple days, I asked super nicely if he would by any chance be able to make us the 'Mens' and 'Ladies' room signs then and there. 'Sure' he said. We got to watch them being made - AMAZING. From the autocad drafting version, it gets loaded into the software for the water jet machine and then we went into the room with the jet thing itself. I wish I had pictures - it IS like a giant water pic. It's unbelievable how quickly the thing cuts the most intricate designs - zipping along. Lanny even adjusted all the sharp corners into really subtle curves on the fonts to make sure the plexiglass didn't have any weak points in the design. And once the first one came out of the machine he said "Hmm...don't you think these would look neat frosted?". Heck yah. So we went into another room and he put his hands into these industrial gloves things that fed into a big metal box with a window (like one of those things in the movies they always use to handle test tubes of deadly viruses) and sandblasted them. They are sooooo cool. And - we'll have all the rest in a couple days - but here's a sneak peak of one of the one's that got us through Rotary:
Aren't they neat. I can't thank him enough. Every time you get a foil to-go box say 'thanks Lanny'. :)
Meanwhile, back at the theatre all the details were being attended to... Final touches like spraying the thermostat to match all the fixtures:
Laying out the tables, the linens etc etc etc. By the end of the evening it looked astonishingly ready to go. The windows were blacked out (hooray), and we began a confab on the best manner to fold napkins. We were, believe it or not, almost ready. Susannah had a rehearsal with a delightful young lady from Huntington University who was going to play the piano for her. Even though Susannah had started fighting a pesky cold, she sounded amazing and we managed to pick which songs without too much of a fuss. We'd always wanted her to do 'Climb Every Mountain' since Sound of Music was going to be our first show... but the other one was a little more up for grabs. Because she has a legit voice I wanted to make sure we didn't choose anything that didn't suit her style, so we had kind of perused the Barbara Cook, Renee Fleming canon. Finally we decided on a sassy version of 'Can't Help Loving That Man' which we loved.
In the process of the weekend I had been trying to write the actual speech. Oh, yah - we forgot about THAT, didn't we. Twenty minutes (including Susannah's two songs) we were supposed to do. My first draft was about 26 pages - which we knew was way too long. The challenge was trying to find time to go through with it, since by the time we quit working with everyone the Pack Leader was totally exhausted and his brain fried. Sunday evening we did a test run in front of Janice and it was kind of a disaster. I'd always been advised that when you're doing a speech like this that you need to keep it interesting, entertaining and funny. Well - it was funny - just the wrong kind of funny. I had kind of couched it like a Washington Correspondents Dinner speech - and it just didn't work. It was trying to hard, and too theatrical, and just not right for this particular crowd. So Sunday night I stayed up till five cutting about ten pages out of it and trying to adjust the tone significantly. Sunday evening we read it through - now 17 pages - and it was a whole lot better - but still too long. Going through a draft of a 17 page speech when you're both exhausted and testy and debating what should and shouldn't be cut in the interest of time isn't the easiest thing - but we did our best. At the end of the day the deciding factor was "will it help us sell tickets? Will it help people want to book the space". So, in the interest of brevity the blog, the youtube video and a number of other topics went by the wayside. Then, after another rewrite till 5 am and, at 15 pages, I thought it was in pretty good shape. The whole thing wasn't written like a traditional speech per se - since we were both delivering it in kind of a back and forth dialogue. Rich also didn't want to be shackled to the exact words on the page - which was a challenge since I didn't want to have to wing it. But, I desperately hoped that by the time I hit save on early Tuesday morning that we would be able to muddle through.
Tuesday morning we were all up super early. Tables were set with silver ware, bread plates and bread, menus, flyers (shameless promotion). The pitchers were filled with Pegan's world famous sweet tea and Huntington's famous um water. Susannah buried her face in a pot of steam to clear out anti-opera mucous. I put finishing touches on speech details. We all got gussied up and awaited the guests of honor.
And thus, after months of anticipation in walked the first Rotarian...who saw (yup, this is what you've been waiting for kiddies) THIS: