Blue ribbon cakes…or not

If you’re not familiar with 4-H, you have missed one of those incredible opportunities for training and crazy stories.

Because we’re in a rural area, our kids completed several 4-H projects in their careers.

bad-cakeBut the most interesting was cake decorating.

The Food Network has nothing on some of those extravagant cakes displayed at the state fair. Fortunately, our kids didn’t see those works of art before they signed up.

A 4-H project manual builds basic skills so unit 1 zeroes in a simple icing, some simple tools, and a simple cake.

The cake part proved to be a problem for daughter #1, who baked her show cake the afternoon before it had to be entered. When the edges of the cake wouldn’t release from the pan, she solved the problem by cutting away the edges.

Most of the cakes entered were 8” round but hers was more of a 5” lumpy. She slathered on icing in an attempt to hide the lumpy. No blue ribbon that year.

Daughter #2 was the creative sort and felt stifled by the rules for the unit. When she was required to place touching stars of frosting, she didn’t understand why the cake couldn’t show through. A lot. And why she couldn’t make the cake look like a diorama of the earth. No blue ribbon that year, either.

Our son, at age 10, insisted he be allowed to take cake decorating and even went to a workshop where he and about 25 girls learned the fine art of placing stars of frosting on waxed paper. This, of course, made absolutely no sense to him except when he licked clean the paper after the workshop.

We found out later that he signed up so that he could be in charge of the family birthday cakes. He figured if he’d finished cake decorating 1, I’d let him do the cakes.

And presumably lick the frosting, too.

His show cake came together on a hot summer day with frosting that needed a lot more sugar than he put in the bowl. He didn’t quite pour on the icing but you get the idea.

His design drooped by the time he got the cake to the fairgrounds. We’re talking blue lines and yellow stars turning into dripping green blobs. I still wonder if his judge stifled a giggle or a technical foul upon seeing the entry.

No blue ribbon that time either.

What he didn’t know was that he didn’t need any cake decorating classes to take over the birthday cake tradition in our family. After I had served up a birthday cake one year that looked like a heap of crumbs molded like the foothills of Colorado instead of the puppy pan it had come from, I was in no position to hold onto the cake-making tradition.

I let him take care of the birthday cakes.

I was in charge of licking the bowl.


The Bible: Beginnings

The Bible contains many examples of excellent writing that contributes to the author’s meaning. As we read, we need to learn how to engage in the writing techniques.

I’m going to examine beginning of Genesis as example.

Here are the first two sentences:

    In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALook how much information is shoe-horned into two simple sentences:

  • We know the time frame: the beginning of time.
  • We know the main character:  God.
  • We know his action: creating.
  • We know the setting: heaven and earth
  • We also know the problem: the earth was without form and void.
  • And a bit of a cliffhanger: darkness was over the face of the deep. Where did this darkness come from? Is it related to the deep? Is it related to the lack of form and void?

The next sentence adds a new layer of intrigue to a mysterious situation:

    And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

We draw more information with the addition of this new sentence:

  • God has a Spirit.
  • This Spirit was present on the scene (hovering).
  • Water is introduced.

Now, as readers, we have gleaned some information. The next step is to ask some questions:

Why was the Spirit hovering? Was there problem with the waters? Was the Spirit hovering in anticipation of an action by God? Or something unique in the water? Was there something significant in the water?

In three sentences, the biblical writer has given us a mysterious start to the greatest story every told. We’re drawn to learn answers.

We know the value of opening sentences. In Genesis, the writer packed much information into three sentences and each word contributed to the unfolding story.

Expert writing contributes to profound meaning and an alert reader can uncover meaning with good observation and great questions.

Found a great puppy

I like dogs and I tend to like precise words. So, when my sister called to tell me that her family had gotten a new dog, I decided to stop by the house and check it out.

Image from Stock.xchng

Image from Stock.xchng

My nephews met me at the door. Well, they bounced to the front door and shook out their hands while they rebounded like pogo sticks. I let myself in.

“We have a new puppy!” said the five year old.

“He’s our very new puppy. We have a new puppy!” said the four year old.

It seemed there was little more to say about the puppy than that he was new.

They were pointing down the hall to their bathroom. “Um, where is this new puppy?” I asked.

“He’s getting a bath!” said nephew #1.

“Mom is giving him a bath!” said nephew #2.

Oh, good. Whether the puppy was great, these two little boys worked off lunch before it was 2 pm with their jumping. Their feet continued to pound the floor as they did the pogo stick re-enactment in the living room.

“Can I go see him?” I asked them.

“Mom’s giving him a bath!” said nephew #1. “We have a new puppy.”

“New puppy,” said nephew #2, tiring just a smidgen.  He was too young to shriek and bounce so he was settling for bouncing.

Their excitement was contagious and I called to my sister. “Are you done? I want to see this cute little guy.”

“Hang on,” she said. “I’m done.”

And the boys found a higher jumping gear at that point, pointing and squealing. “Here he comes! Here comes our new puppy!”

I prepared for the fuzzy little guy. What’s cuter than a thick-legged puppy with thick fur and a baby face?

Through the doorway came this long leg followed by another and then a Great Dane emerged, towering over the boys.

“Our new puppy!” the boys squealed and wrapped arms around each of the dog’s front legs.

My sister followed the dog into the room.

“Puppy?” I said.

She shrugged, wiping off her hands on a towel. “So they say.”

I tend to prefer precise words. In this case, big dog would have worked well. But what can you say to little boys who believe they have a great puppy?

The Bible: motifs

A literary technique that biblical authors use extensively is the motif. A motif is a recurring theme or distinctive feature woven through a literary text.

A common motif in the Bible is the barren women.

Esau and Jacob Presented to Isaac (painting ci...

Esau and Jacob Presented to Isaac (painting circa 1779–1801 by Benjamin West) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We first encounter this motif in the story of Abraham and Sarah found in Genesis. In that story, Abraham is promised a son who will become the first of many descendants: a great nation.

The problem is that Abraham’s wife, Sarah, is too old to bear a child. She has never had a child. She is barren.

However, following the promises of God, Sarah becomes pregnant and delivers Isaac. Isaac in many ways has a significant role on the Old Testament story line. He is the father of Jacob who is the father of twelve sons who become the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel.

A significant man is born from a barren woman.

The motif continues in Isaac’s life, when his wife, Rebekah, is unable to conceive until he prayers for her. Then she delivers twins. The reader is ready to see if the barren woman motif is incorporated in this story – and it is. One of the twins is Jacob.

Jacob’s beloved wife, Rachel, also is unable to have children while Jacob’s other wife, Leah, is prolific. But eventually Rachel produces two sons. The oldest is Joseph, who ends of as second in command in Egypt.

From there, he provides protection for his family during a devastating famine. The family of Jacob moves to Egypt and, during their time there, grows from a family to a nation.

So we have three barren women – Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel – all delivering men significant to the history of Israel.

The motif continues with stories of Samson’s mother, Samuel’s mother, and Obed’s mother (Ruth, who had been married for 10 years without offspring). In each case, the son born to the formerly-barren woman had great significance.

Samson became a judge who helped the Israelites overcome Philistine oppressors. Samuel was the last of the judges and the man who anointed King David. Obed was the grandfather of David.

The motif continues into the New Testament. John the Baptist, the last prophet before Jesus, was born to Elizabeth, a barren woman. Each barren woman conceived through a miraculous touch of God.

Consider the birth of Jesus, born to a virgin who conceived through a miraculous touch of God.

In the Bible, the son born in a miraculous way will become a man of significance. Biblical texts use a motif – in this case, the barren woman – to highlight the theme.

Resisting the laundrists

I have a friend who claims to love doing laundry. She’s still my friend, which, I hope, reveals a ton about my tolerance level.

closet clutter Who loves doing laundry?

Not me.

My children were all instructed in the operation of our washing machine so that, by the time they could climb, they could do their own laundry. OK, maybe that’s a bit of a hyperbole but it still stands as a standard to attain.

I do admit that the result of requiring the kids to do their own laundry is that they now can use their bedroom dresser drawers for  books and computer programs because those drawers never see clothes. They draw clean clothes from the laundry baskets.

At least that’s the theory. Sometimes clean and dirty co-mingle on the floor.

I did mention I’m tolerant, right?

I cannot blame my upbringing for this laundry tolerance. My mother was a Type-A laundrist. A laundrist is someone who takes the chore of laundry seriously. Even to the point of folding and stashing clothes on the same day they were washed.

I remember how Mom resisted changing from a wringer washing machine (see photo) wringer washingmachinebecause it cleaned fast and deep. But I’m happy to report that I was the reason she moved into the modern era of washing machines and dryers.

One day she was hanging up clothes in the back yard and I, being about 3 at the time, decided to explore without her supervision. What, I thought to myself, would happen if I stuck this knife blade in the electric socket?

I don’t remember what happened but I do know that Mom got a clothes dryer and that for years we had a butter knife in our flatware drawer with a blackened point.

One day my husband came home with a story about the wife of one of his customers who ironed all her husband’s underwear. I was so pleased I had the strength of character to resist such laundrist temptation. I know it wasn’t a hint. My husband has no illusions about my laundry abilities.

I mean, I don’t even fold my own underwear. Why would I iron his?

But recently our washing machine went belly up and my husband decided he wanted a front-loading set, those new energy-efficient machines that should save water and electricity.

So we have a new set with portholes facing into our laundry room. My husband is still bummed that the dryer doesn’t fold the clothes, too, but he’s adjusting. I’m bummed the clothes don’t come out on hangers. I’m adjusting, too.

But I do have one concern. Our grandson, at 18 months, now likes to stand at the glass windows and watch the clothes tumble.

I’m worried that this might be planting the seeds of a whole new generation of laundrists.


The Bible: repeated words

Authors learn early to do their best not to repeat words. Repeating words is monotonous in our English literature. Rather than use stairs four times in the paragraph, for example, use stairs and steps and pronouns. If you have to, rewrite to avoid repeats.

ReturnA useful biblical technique is word repetition and, ironically, we often miss it because our English translations plug in synonyms for the repetitions.

But in doing so, we sometimes overlook the author’s point.

For example, there is a return motif in the Bible. The story of Jacob is about a man returning to his homeland after 20 years of exile. The grand story of the Old Testament is the return of a remnant of people to Palestine after the Babylonian exile.

But the story I want to examine briefly is the return story of Naomi in Ruth 1.

The Hebrew word for return in Ruth 1 is shub, meaning return. It carries deep meaning and rich connotations of the rhythm of life, of people returning to a previous condition, of people going out and coming in.

At times, shub is translated return and at other times synonyms are employed. Those are similar in meaning but we miss the repetition which underscores the theme of return. Here is where shub is used in Ruth 1:

  • Ruth 1:6 “…then she started to return with her…”
  • Ruth 1:8  “Go back each of you to your mother’s house…”
  • Ruth 1:10 “No, we will return with you to your people…”
  • Ruth 1:11 “Turn back, my daughters, why would you go with me?”
  • Ruth 1:12 “Turn back,my daughters, go your way…”
  • Ruth 1:15 “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods…”
  • Ruth 1:15 “Return after your sister-in-law…”
  • Ruth 1:16 “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you.”
  • Ruth 1:21 “The Lord has brought me back empty…”
  • Ruth 1:22 So Naomi returned together with Ruth.
  • Ruth 1:22  …her daughter-in-law who came back with her.

That many uses of shub mean something. Although the translation obscures the repetition of shub, we still can uncover what the author intended. He wrote about Naomi’s return. His repetition clarifies his point.

Naomi was returning to her homeland and to God. She was returning to the fullness she thought God had torn away from her. She was returning to the kindness of God’s plan.

Word repetition set the stage for the author’s intended purpose in Ruth.

Technology not

In the days before I had much money, I got myself a poor person’s cruise control on my car. In those days, I drove a 5-speed VW Rabbit and so I sweet-talked my brother, the mechanic, into installing a throttle lock.

embarrassed womanWhat the system consisted of was a gadget attached to the gas pedal and another line attached somehow to the brake. When you engaged the system, the gas pedal was locked into place. Pressing the brake released the lock.

This sounds like the sort of thing a person whose brain has not fully developed yet might try out. And that was the case.

Because the area where I generally drove was flat, the system worked adequately. I’d reach the right speed, lock in the throttle, and relax. My speed would shift with any ups and downs in the road but not much.

I was now in league with those fancy-schmancy cruise controls.

So one day my sister and I took off for Denver in my Rabbit. I don’t remember why she was driving but I do remember that we had a good-sized hill to clear on the route.

When I drove, I kicked off my throttle lock when I got to the hill.

My sister didn’t.

So up the hill we climbed. Gravity being what it is, our speed dropped. And dropped. 

Cars passed us. Lots of cars passed us.

We chugged our way to the top like the little engine that could.

And then we started down. We zoomed down the hill, flying past cars that had passed us like we were tortoises. Now we were the hare.

“Those people think I’m crazy!” my sister wailed.

Perhaps they did. But we got so far ahead of that pack we didn’t see any of them all the way to Denver. So it really didn’t matter.