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Evonne & the San Diego Study Hall

Arty: In school, doing homework was always more fun with friends but I never dreamed of a study group like this! Evonne Darby has brought all the fun of hanging out with friends, added delicious food, all the supplies you could need, the perfect “hangout” spot, and has created the ultimate in “squad goals”! Talk about a dream team! Evonne is so incredibly generous and holy wow: what a planner! I know you’ll be inspired (and seriously jealous that you’re not her neighbor) when you read about her San Diego Study Hall.

McGoo U San Diego Study Hall Group – What, Why, When, Who

Evonne: Let’s start at the very beginning. I met Liz and John, and became aware of McGoo U, at the first CookieCon I attended back in 2014. They opened the convention with a very warm welcome to all the attendees, and had a booth near my friend Susan Carberry (The Cake Cottage) in the vendor hall. Of course I had to join McGoo U and become a McGoober – a total no brainer! Where else could I find cookie decorating classes, awesome projects, informative teaching, new techniques, etc. all in a fun and informative easy to access online monthly class?

Fast forward to mid-2018 – I was a McGoo U outsider. Honestly, I was a flunky up to that point because (embarrassingly) I had never attempted or completed any of the monthly homework assignments. I watched the monthly videos, saw the homework posted, witnessed all the fun and learning going on, but I still hadn’t taken my own plunge. Why? Lots of excuses…too many “more important” things to do first, so many obstacles in the way of getting those cookies baked and decorated! I never considered quitting though; that was never an option, as I enjoyed watching the monthly videos and felt there was value even though my homework wasn’t being turned in. Plus seeing other McGoobers posting their homework assignments and observing the improvements in their cookie decorating skills month after month is so enjoyable. The truth is,  I’ve never been a flunky. And I knew I needed to do something to motivate myself into action and start earning those coveted patches! Plus, I knew in order to take my cookie decorating skills up a notch, practice makes perfect! I decorate cakes and cake pops, make gum paste flowers, decorate cookies for family, friends, special events; it’s a hobby and “therapy” time for me. I knew it was time to add structure and discipline to my McGoo U homework assignments and take them seriously. Time to learn and actually use the techniques Liz teaches each month. I mean, there’s a reason McGoo U has so many members! Time to dive in!

But…how to be a successful McGoo U member and an A plus student? Pressure from others to hold myself accountable has always worked for me in the past (it worked the last 10 times I joined weight Watchers!). It was time to invite a few local McGoobers I knew over to do our homework together.  I messaged Kim notifying her of my plans. I wanted to be sure it was okay for us to cookie together; I hadn’t seen any group homework posts and didn’t want to look as if we were cheating on our homework for any reason! That first get-together produced a new member, and I earned my first badge, the coveted McGoo “M” letter patch! I’ve always been a Star Student in school, so now I was hooked and NEEDED to keep earning patches with friends…a Study Hall was born!

The first few times we met were very informal and we all provided something for the homework. However, wanting to create more structure, reaching out to Kim for some direction (isn’t she the best?), and asking if it would be okay to charge a small fee to recoup expenses, thus began a more formal San Diego Study Hall group.

What’s Study Hall you ask? Merriam Webster defines it as

  • The period of time in a school curriculum set aside for study and the preparation of school work.
  • A schoolroom used for study

Here are the details for our McGoo U #SanDiegoStudyHall group:

  • The fee to attend is $10 per Study Hall. That includes all the tools, cookies, icing, and supplies needed to complete our homework, as well as refreshments, snacks, and lunch. The attendees have stated the fee is not nearly enough for what is provided, but the goal for charging wasn’t to earn any monies through McGoo U, only to allow me to keep buying my favorite Plugra and Kerry Gold butter!
  • The saying “If you build it, they will come” definitely applied to our study hall group. Every time I posted photos, people messaged and asked how to join in on the fun. We quickly grew to a group of 8 regular attendees. With more wanting to join, we all agreed that 8 core attendees was a comfortable number for our Study Hall group. Those who have contacted me about joining our Study Hall have been placed on an “alternate” list and are contacted if a regular cannot attend.
Our #SanDiegoStudyHall core group of 8
From front row left: Shelley Fialkowski (Shelleys Cookie Studio), Susan Carberry (The Cake Cottage), me, Karen Yamamishi; Back row left: Carolyn Buckner, Kara Hatfield, Becky Kasten (Coronado Sweet Cookie Studio), Paula (MaeMaeMa) Jan. Not pictured here – Penny Ottley (Penny’s Custom Cookies) and our current alternates: Pamela Owen and Nathalie Sorenson (Hot Hands Modeling Chocolate)
  • It’s funny; Every cookie class I’ve ever taken hasn’t supplied a taster cookie. And I don’t know about you, but I always wonder how they taste as I decorate! For our study hall cookies, I bake 2-3 different recipes, making taster cookies for everyone to sample and discuss while we’re decorating. Copies of the recipes are handed out as well, unless I’ve baked some from Jensweetstuff, (my personal favorites). In that case I provide a coupon code to purchase the recipe at a discount!
  • If time permits, we also complete the Smart Cookie and/or Extra Frosting assignments. Additionally, since we have so many previous homework months not completed, we might agree to do 2 sets in one Study Hall. Or, as in the month of January, we had 2 study hall sessions so we could do our current month’s homework and the assignment from the previous January.
  • The first few times we met, I premixed the colors and bagged all of the icing. However, I realized all the fun and learning were being taken away fro the students. Mixing the colors and finding the right conistencies are such a huge part of decorating! So we had an “Icing Lab” prior to starting our homework, taught by one of our fellow attendees, Becky Magness Kasten (Coronado Sweet Cookie Studio). Our group has varying experience levels, and in the Icing Lab Becky taught us about royal icing cosistencies.. We also hope to have one of our other core members, Susan Carberry, give another Icing Lab, as we have all come to realize that RI consistency preferences differ with each decorator. Now there is a container of white royal icing supplied for each attendee to color and mix to their preferred hues and consistencies!
  • Tools are provided to each attendee, and labeled only for that person to use on a regular basis. We’ve all probably attended a class where the paintbrush isn’t the correct size we want or not the nice fine liner that i needed to do the perfectly clean work you want to do!. Members are responsible for cleaning their tools when they are finished with their homework. Set up and clean up go much faster as a result.
  • The following month’s Study Hall date is determined during the current month’s Study Hall. It’s much easier to check calendars and come to a consensus while we’re all together. If for any reason a regular member is unable to attend, an alternate is contacted to fill the open spot. In addition, if a regular member is unable to attend, I will offer to bake their cookies so they can still earn homework credit on their own. Just an FYI – for our March homework we decided to meet early in the month because of CookieCon. However, setting an early date in the month is challenging. It’s difficult to ensure that all of the supplies will be prepped and on hand. That being said, one of the benefits of working within a group is the ability to reach out for assistance.
  • We also have a spot for a guest each month, and I think we can recruit more McGoo U members, don’t you? Each time a guest has attended, a new McGoober has been born! Liz’s online classes, fun themes, new techniques and online community are all so beneficial to any level decorator.

I have a nice big room to host classes on the ground floor of my home, which is a huge advantage when it’s time for Study Hall. I call it Sugar Therapy Studio. I keep trying to build my website, but for now – follow me on IG – @evonnedarby and be sure watch for upcoming classes; there are some amazing instructors scheduled this year!

(Nadia Kalinichenko (My Little Bakery) teaching a class at Sugar Therapy Studio)

Our #SanDiegoStudyHall group evolves and gets better with each passing month…not only with our cookie decorating skills, but with our Study Hall meetings as well. It’s been fun to start this McGoo U Study Hall and watch us grow. Kim has been so great to work with; she’s always so prompt in replying to questions, and has been so encouraging and excited to see our posts each month.

There are many benefits to doing our homework together every month. It’s fun to decorate with others, we’ve all learned from each other, we hold each other accountable for getting our homework completed and posted, etc. McGoo U and San Diego Study Hall has encouraged people from differing backgrounds to get together and cookie! We have a doctor, a judge, a professional bakery owner, a few cottage bakers, and a marketing professional in our group. But once we’re all together, we’re all the same – students of McGoo U – honing our decorating skills. Hosting like-minded cookiers to decorate together has been so much fun and so rewarding. I love seeing other McGoobers post about trying to start study halls and cookie together!

I’m always available to answer any additional Study Hall questions you may have. Feel free to message me on Facebook; I’d love to see more groups get started! Who knows, maybe at a future CookieCon we can plan a Study Hall for all of us McGoobers and do our homework togethere under one roof!

I hope to see all of you at CookieCon! Watch for our #McGooUSandiegoStudyHall members there; almost all of us are attending! We’ll be the crazy ones proudly wearing our McGoo U colors, some fun buttons, and the same aprons!

@EvonneDarby, Sugar Therapy Studio

Evonne asked her fellow Study Hall members why they keep coming back month after month. Here’s what they had to say…

I came to the group after friends had posted photos of their pictures and the fun they were having. I raised my hand and asked if I could join in! Prior to this, I was a solitary decorator, working out any kinks on my own and often giving up. This SanDiegoStudyHall group is a wonderful place to come and sit down together to do our cookie homework! Our quirky little group is a diverse mixture of ages, personalities, and experience levels. We talk, eat, decorate, brainstorm, and learn together. We encourage each other and keep the air around us completely positive! Evonne is a fabulous host who has created a decorating space for each of us complete with everything we need for each session. We can bring our own supplies, if we want, but she has it all there for us.  A formerly timid cookie decorator, I now have improved confidence and an “I can DO this!” attitude. -Carolyn Buckner

Shelley & Kara

I joined San Diego Study Hall through a dear friend. I love meeting up monthly and getting together with my fellow cookiers. Evonne is an amazing host, it blows my mind how she’s able to make sure we’re all set when we come to cookie. Even the smallest detail is not overseen. She has an amazing set up complete with everything you can possibly need for baking and even a coffee cart that would put Starbucks to shame 🙂 she makes homemade coffee cake and treats for us and always has lunch ready to go, I go just for the homemade treats! Lol! But in all honesty I so enjoy going and meeting up with the gals, the camaraderie, the warm environment and mostly because it’s such a happy place where we all come together and  have something in common, a passion, a love, a place where we cookie for us. McGoo U surely brought us together, but Evonne keeps us coming back❤      -Shelley Fialkowski

Paula & Karen

Paula first introduced me to cake decorating and now cookie decorating.  I have always enjoyed arts and crafts and love the art of cake and cookie decorating.  My kids are all grown and I now have the time to enjoy hobbies and travel. I’m so grateful to belong to the San Diego cookie club!  I really enjoy the other members and the friendliness and helpfulness from everyone. I know there are professionals in the group and appreciate any tips they can give me.  And, especially, thank you to you for hosting us every time and providing all of the amazing food! –Karen Yamanishi

From left to right: Kara, Pamela Owen, Paula, Carolyn, Karen and guest (and new McGoober) Nathalie Sorenson (Hot Hands Modeling Chocolate). She has a booth at CookieCon for the first time, please stop by and say hi and learn all about her awesome product!

San Diego Study Hall is a place like NO other! Cookies, Camaraderie and Comfort Food!  Sharing questions, info and just plain girl giggling keeps me anxious for each month’s fun. I always leave having learned something new. Evonne Darby (our supreme leader) is one-in-a-million! We want for nothing at her decked out, completely stocked Cookie Cave!! –Pamela Owen

From left front: Karen, Evonne, Kara
Back row left: Penny, Paula and Carolyn

San Diego study hall for me is a blessing! Yes, I’ve only attended twice but am hooked! I have wanted to join McGoo U and make the cookies and practice because I know it really helps your creativity. Meeting other cookiers, with likewise interest, is so helpful to the craft. Just like joining the gym! (With a workout buddy) well that hasn’t happened yet! I so appreciate having a place to go and join the girls in decorating our monthly homework. –Penny Ottley

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