Personal ponderings from a natural night-owl!

2013 – The Missing Year

I knew that I’d had neither the time nor the energy to blog for a while. I didn’t realize until today that “a while” was actually an entire year. The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for my blog and those stats are really quite astonishing for a blog which was dormant for 12 months. But (like Jack Nicholson) …”I’m BA-ACK!”

Happy New Year!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,600 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 43 trips to carry that many people.

Also, my viewers came from 86 different countries around the world. EIGHTY-SIX! I don’t know if I could even NAME 86 countries!

Click here to see the complete report.

Today I Am Perfect

I hate taking pills. In fact, in another lifetime (before I had kids) I declared that I’d better stay healthy when I got old because there was no way I could EVER take a pill a day, let alone several.

Then I had kids. Kids taught me, in so many ways, to never say never. After my second pregnancy, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. The treatment? A pill a day.

Treating thyroid conditions requires consistency. The medication is slow to build in the body, so it takes about 3 months to reach peak efficacy. This means that you can skip a day without much negative effect. I tried taking the pills. It would work for a day, a week, maybe even a month. But then I’d forget  for a day. One day became two, then four, then 20. Failure. I’d try again, but inevitably, I would fail at taking my pill consistently, which meant that the pills weren’t really going to help me. They were a mental pain, a sign of weakness and failure. I hated thinking about them every day. I felt demotivated, sick, and old – at age 31.

I did some further research about hypothyroidism, educated myself thoroughly, and decided that my condition wasn’t worth treating. (Or at least, that it wasn’t worth treating if I couldn’t treat it perfectly). My case was mild, my symptoms minor and not at all bothersome, and the pills seemed to be taking over my life. My doctor didn’t understand or agree with my choice, but he acknowledged my autonomy as a patient. I continued to have my TSH levels checked yearly to make sure nothing was changing. I didn’t deny that I had the condition. I just chose not to treat it, because if I couldn’t treat it perfectly, I wasn’t going to treat it at all. And this way, I didn’t have to face the daunting spectre of imminent failure every singe day.

This coping mechanism worked fine for 8 years or so, but then in 2009 early pre-menopause and hypothyroidism became contributing factors in an apparent radical hormone imbalance that resulted in depression. As I got on the road to recovery, it became clear that I really needed to start consistently treating my thyroid condition to maintain good mental and physical health. So I started taking a pill a day.

The first year was on-again, off-again – just like before. But this time, I was also seeing my lovely therapist who helped me examine what I was doing and how I was feeling. Somewhere in our conversations, I had the idea that I could change my definition of “success.” Maybe “success” didn’t need to be synonymous with the “perfection” of  taking a pill a day and never skipping. Maybe I could lower the bar and re-define success as “taking a pill a day until I didn’t – THEN taking a pill a day even after a skip.”

So in January, 2011 I started a chart because I’m a firm believer in the concept that you pay attention to what you track. I made a little calendar that could fit inside my pill box, and I started writing “P” every day that I took my pill. I did pretty well! I went a whole 37 days before I missed a few days from being sick. Ugh. I gritted my teeth and started taking the pill again.

This “failure” was now progress – and success! All of a sudden, the very thing would have made me feel like a failure – missing a few days of pill taking – made me feel successful – all because I’d changed my definition of success and accepted the inevitability of human imperfection.

I went 47 more days without missing, then I missed a day, took pills for two more days, and missed an entire WEEK. Here was a challenge. Could I stick to my new definition of success and start again? I could, I did, and life was good. It was summer of 2011 and I wasn’t perfect, but I felt successful – I WAS successful!

Or was I? Maybe I was cheating. Is changing the definition of “success” to make it less than perfection really succeeding? It sure is. And in a weird way, it enabled perfection. Because you see, I didn’t every give up the notion that taking the pill a day, every day, was the ultimate goal, the perfect goal. I just stopped making it the ONLY goal.

I am a Christian and my Lutheran faith tells me that Jesus died for my sins so that I could be perfect in God’s eyes. God wanted perfect obedience from his creation, but he also wanted it freely given from us, so he gifted us with free will and the ability to choose obedience – or not. Satan is real and Satan is allowed to tempt us, try to part us from our loving creator God. Sadly, from the very first human, we’ve chosen temptation and disobedience over perfection. We are a corrupted creation.

But God changed the definition of success for us through Jesus. Instead of heaven being reserved for beings who never make a bad choice, heaven is now for those who acknowledge their failures, regret them, and come to terms with the inevitability of them. To attain heaven, we must let go of our human lust for pride and power, admit complete defeat, and accept God’s superiority over us by accepting Jesus as savior.  We can’t even do that perfectly, so we have to do it over and over again, never losing faith that through God, our imperfection can be made perfect. In holy communion, I accept Jesus as my savior again. I acknowledge what I have chosen to say and do (and what I have chosen to NOT say or NOT do) that goes against what my omniscient and omnipotent God knows would ultimately make me happiest. My sins are forgiven and I am made perfect.

In other words, when you are a Christian, every day is New Year’s Day.

I continued trying to take my pills. I missed most of April, May, June, and July, 2012. In the past, I would have considered that an EPIC failure. But because of my new definition of success, I instead had the opportunity for epic success. I started taking my pills again on July 26th. And this time, I didn’t stop. So today, December 31, marks the last day of 5 consecutive months of not missing one day of pill taking!

Today I am perfect.

I know that I will fail again. Maybe not tomorrow, but some day. I am human and I simply am not capable of attaining perfection in my present form. But now I know how to shrug off the curse of perfectionism that tells me I will never succeed, change my definition of success, start over, and achieve. I wish you nothing less in 2013.

There’s a distinct difference between disliking something, disagreeing with something, and hating something. I’ve watched – and participated in – many discussions around the recent uproar over statements made by Chick-Fil-A’s owner Dan Cathy’s about marriage. I’ve even seen debate about what the man actually said and personally believes, where the “liberal media” was accused of distorting his words and “causing this whole controversy”. But it was when I saw posted on Facebook a picture of a KFC sign that read “Delicious Chicken Served Without Hate” that I really paused and stopped to think one more time about where I stand and why. “Hate” is a strong word. Does Cathy’s heart-felt belief about the definition of marriage really translate to actual hate for gay people? Have *I* fallen into some kind of media or popular culture wave of righteous indignation without really discovering the facts for myself?

From what I have read, I can confidently state that Dan Cathy supports the concept of legal marriage defined solely as between one man and one woman as based on his interpretation of Biblical scripture. Obviously, Mr. Cathy owns a very successful chain of restaurants which earn for him a great deal of personal profit. Doesn’t he have the right to use that money to support any cause he wants? Of course he does. And I haven’t seen anyone suggesting that Mr. Cathy doesn’t have the right to use those personal profits as he sees fit.

But there is more to this story. Chic-fil-A’s official statement of corporate purpose says that the business exists “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.” Although I didn’t know the exact wording of their corporate mission, I knew they were closed on Sundays and I had heard that such a policy was because founder S. Truett Cathy (Dan’s father) believed the Biblical concept that Sunday should be a day of rest and that people should abstain from work on Sundays in order to worship God. This is publicly documented on S. Truett Cathy’s own website at the link “A Five-Step Recipe for Business Success.”

Interestingly, the origin of the “closed on Sunday” policy actually had nothing at all to do with religion. According to Dan Cathy himself, “We opened on a Tuesday, the 23rd of May 1946, but by the time Sunday came, he [C. Truett Cathy] was exhausted,” said Cathy. “He was just worn out. And Sunday was not a big trading day, anyway, at the time. So he was closed that first Sunday and we’ve been closed ever since. He figured if he didn’t like working on Sundays, that other people didn’t either,” Cathy said. “He said, ‘I don’t want to ask people to do that what I am not willing to do myself.’ ” However, even if the “tradition” started by accident out of sheer exhaustion, it’s obviously been a conscious business decision since then to REQUIRE the franchises to remain closed.

So if you are a staunch atheist who not only does not believe in Chick-fil-A’s concept of God, but does not want to support a corporation whose stated purpose is to glorify that entity in such a public fashion, it would make sense that you chose not to eat there. But what does this have to do with gay marriage? After all, several Christian denominations are supportive of the legal right of homosexuals to marry.

Deeper digging reveals that Chick-fil-A as a corporate entity, has directly co-sponsored marriage retreats where same-gender couples are not admitted and it actively, regularly gives money to very anti-gay (not just anti-same-gender marriage) lobbying organizations such as “Focus on the Family.” If Chick-fil-A were being consistent, it would block anyone who has ever been divorced from participating in those marriage retreats, but I found no indication that this was the case. Chick-fil-A has also directly supported the openly anti-gay (again, as distinct from an anti-same-gender marriage stance) groups Marriage & Family Foundation and the Family Research Council. This type of activity, in my estimation, is where the company crosses the line which has now invited wide-spread boycotts.

Despite Dan Cathy’s claims that, “we will not champion any political agendas on marriage and family,” Chick-fil-A gave direct corporate donations totaling over $8 million in 2010 alone to the private marriage and family institute that Truett Cathy founded. That institute actively supports other organizations which advocate politically against marriage equality. Focus on the Family itself, which I also mentioned already is financially supported by Chick-fil-A, openly advocates for individual political candidates, despite its 501(c)3 status which is supposed to prevent such activity. These types of actions mean that ultimately, Chick-fil-A very definitely IS championing a specific political agenda. If Cathy and people who share his views perceive homosexuality as a sin, why aren’t they advocating as strongly and loudly for laws against divorce which they also consider a sin, especially if all sin is equal in God’s eyes?

Also, think about the implications of the wording in this statement that Dan Cathy made on July 16, 2011: “We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit.” So…wait – we’ve moved from opposing single-gender marriage to implying, quite clearly, that no structure but a married man and woman constitutes a family? Hmm… Not only that, but Focus on the Family actually believes that the so-called “Biblical family unit” is even more narrowly defined as comprised of “a homemaker mother and a breadwinner father.” (James C. Dobson and Gary L. Bauer, Children at Risk, 1994, p. 119, 122) Dear Chick-fil-A and Focus on the Family: it’s the 1950’s calling for you.

So back to my original question: do the actions of the Cathy family in support of their beliefs rise to the level of “hate” for gay people? Maybe they themselves don’t specifically hate gay people, but their money definitely supports – in a significant way – organizations and individuals that say and do offensive, hateful things. At best, there is disingenuousness present in their protestations and a very definite use of corporate – not private – money to advocate against political and social equality.

I hope that God will use the Holy Spirit to work in Dan Cathy’s heart and mind to reveal what I feel is a deeper truth about the depth and breadth of God’s love – and our REAL mandate from God to simply love and to leave the judging to him.

Violence is No Fantasy

What happened in a Colorado movie theatre around 12:30 am this morning was shocking, senseless, and tragic. The victims were in no way to blame for what befell them at the hands of a deranged killer. But we as a society should not be surprised at the increasing number of such violent gun attacks on innocent people when we constantly present violence as entertainment.

I read this quote about the tragedy in a CNN article: “For somebody to go into a movie theater, a place of fun and escapism, and bring that kind of violence into that world is shocking and tragic,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box office division of Hollywood.com. But just two short paragraphs later, the same article points out that “Warner Bros., which is owned by the parent company of CNN, has been heavily marketing the action film that includes scenes featuring lots of gunplay and violence.[emphasis mine] Warner Bros. pulled the trailer for the film ‘Gangster Squad,’ which had been running before showings of ‘The Dark Knight Rises.’ That film trailer features scenes of men armed with machine guns attacking a movie theater.” Sounds like a lot of what too many people term “fun” and “escapism” involves “fantasy” violence.

I have already seen the inevitable renewed debate over gun control. But this is NOT a gun control issue. This is a behavioral issue. Are violent video games to blame? Or the movie industry itself? How about television? Maybe it’s the parents? None of these is responsible – all of them are. At least we’re talking (occasionally) about those particular issues. Sadly, it’s not politically correct to raise the question of how war and combat are glamorized by our recruitment for and celebration of our armed forces. Frankly, we’ve indoctrinated an entire, desensitized generation into believing that wielding weapons is normal and heroic.

I hear the argument all the time: “Oh, it’s ‘just’ a video game. It’s ‘just’ a movie. Kids aren’t REALLY going to do those things. They know better. They can tell the difference between media and reality” But you know what? When they play it in their spare time, see it in their toys, watch it on TV – in their cartoons, in their news, in their commercials – see it in the movies, witness it in their sports, hear it in their music, and have it in front of them in myriad way ALL THE TIME, they absorb it, they ingest it, they accept it, and they normalize it. It becomes their reality.

My kids are not very exposed to violence through the media. We don’t watch network TV at home at all  (this is no exaggeration – we have had no dish or cable service for over 2.5 years.) We use our TV for Wii games & movies and the most violent DVDs we own are probably the Harry Potter movie collection. However, my kids aren’t completely sheltered from the reality of a violent world. Despite the controversy, I took my kids to see “The Hunger Games,” an admittedly violent movie, because they’d both read the books and because the heroine is herself so horrified by the lack of humanity exhibited by most of the people associated with the games. During the movie, other kids and adults were cheering when each “bad” kid died. Both my girls were horrified by this because even though the characters were “kids making bad choices, they were still kids and they were dying. Why are people cheering for kids dying, mom?” Out of the mouths of babes…

I had a friend, who was raising three boys, tell me once that I didn’t understand that boys need to run around and pretend violence in order to “find their place as men in our society” (I think she’d read that in some book about raising sons). She wasn’t entirely comfortable with it at the time, but “it’s just a necessary part of life.” Her oldest son was so young, maybe 7 years old, that it didn’t MEAN anything, she said. That son is a teenager now and obsessed with all things Army, guns, camouflage, violent video games, killing – and she see no problem with it, still thinks it’s normal. I’m horrified at his transformation and we are no longer friends partially because I don’t want my girls exposed to that kind of “normal” boy.

Does no one see a connection between the massive daily over-exposure of our kids to violence and the rise of school violence? domestic violence? violent bullying? childhood depression? youth suicide? Was no one else horrified that there was a 4 month old baby and a 9 year old child present in that theatre at midnight am for a PG-13 movie containing known adult violence? Does no one else see the grim irony that many people in the theatre didn’t realize what was happening because they thought it was just super-realistic special effects?

Violence is not acceptable – not in our video games, not in our movies, not in our toys, not in our music, not in our television shows, not in our sports, and especially NOT for our children. And if we don’t stand up and say, “No more,” we will continue to find others’ violent escapism fantasies turning into our own very grim reality.

Unshackled…Almost

I started using a word processor in 1980 when I was an 11 year old in 5th grade. The program was called C.C. Writer – an ancient dinosaur that I used on our family TRS-80 CoCo (color computer – the one with an acoustic modem and everything which is now, quite literally, a museum piece I saw on display last year at the McKinley Museum in Canton, Ohio). I got pretty good at it- even typed a 70 page leaf collection school project for Mr. Patterson’s 7th grade science class. And I clearly remember telling my parents that I would NEVER be able to go to college because every college application had to be TYPED and I had NEVER used a typewriter before. Of course, my shiny new 256k RAM personal desktop computer and I did make it to Miami University.

Needless to say, I’ve learned LOTS of new wordprocessing programs over the last 32 years: AppleWriter, AppleWorks (all the schools eventually used Apple machines, so we had to learn those programs), EasyWriter, PFS First Choice, pfs Write, Wordstar, Wordperfect, and I’m sure there were others.

Eventually, my universe seemed to standardize on Microsoft Word and the entire Microsoft Office suite. Freed from having to learn a new word-processor every few years and comfortable that, finally, THIS program was here to stay, I had time to learn other Microsoft programs like Excel and PowerPoint. I even dabbled once-upon-a-time in Microsoft’s SQL-like proprietary programming language for the database program Access and continued to be an avid user of Publisher for creating newsletters, award certificates, and posters. Over the years, my use of Access faded, but Publisher was still my main desktop publishing platform, so imagine my surprise, when Microsoft stopped bundling Publisher as part of Office.

Despite my affinity for and proficiency with Microsoft products, I slowly become a big fan of free, open-sourced software, probably because I am married to the world’s biggest anti-fan of large, monopolistic computer companies. My fandom started with PDF readers and writers (dear world: please stop telling people that Adobe bloat is *the only* software with these capabilities) and grew from there. I’ve printed & shared documents via PDF format for years and I needed a simple way to access them since the days of my Palm Pilot, so I was excited when Google Docs appeared on the scene. Yet still I clung to my comfortable Microsoft Office programs, even when they started to look like my mom’s worn-out nightgowns.

When I got a new laptop last Christmas, I decided to take the plunge and see how far I could walk the free, open-sourced talk. It was a scary thing at first to NOT have Office installed. I used Google Docs as much as I could, but some information I just did not want on the internet, so I used OpenOffice as a back-up. I hit one small snag in January when I needed to quickly modify a pretty hefty Word document I created before Christmas containing watermarks and a dynamically linked table of contents. Neither of my go-to programs could both preserve the existing formatting AND allow me to make the necessary modifications, so I had to use Word on dear husband’s computer. Otherwise, I sailed along for 6 months with no problems at all.

This week, I hit problem documents #2 and #3: my resume and a family reunion invite done in Publisher two years ago. The problem with my resume, which needed to be updated, was (again) the formatting. Neither Google Docs nor OpenOffice plays nice with heavily formatted documents like a resume and again, I did NOT have the time or energy to recreate the thing from scratch. But the invitation – ach y fi, did IT give me a boatload of trouble!

First, I learned that NOTHING will open a Publisher document except Publisher. And to make matters worse, it has to be the same VERSION of Publisher you used to create the document in the first place, which is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. I was still determined to recreate the thing – until I learned that there is NO standardization in desktop publishing. So sure, I could download a free, open source program to use, but 1) I’d have to learn how to use it and 2) the format is STILL going to be proprietary to THAT piece of software. After spending an hour or so screwing around trying to learn Scribus, which is just similar enough to Publisher to make you think you can use it easily but just different enough to make you want to rip out your hair, I gave up and made John find me Publisher 2010 on some computer we had at home.

So overall, I give this experiment a B grade. I’d say I’m 95% comfortable NOT having office on my laptop, but boy, when I need it, I sure do need it – and usually because I just don’t have the time to recreate something I’ve already spend hours and hours refining and perfecting. In the end, the principle just might not be worth the occasional but intense stressy drama.

(to be continued…)

Brave New World

Some role changes in life are dramatic, expected, and planned for. Many people work an entire year on a wedding – and hopefully even longer getting to know themselves and/or their partner – before actually claiming the title of “spouse.” People get 9 months – or longer, if adoption is involved – before becoming parents. Those are the Big Changes. But most times in my life, I move from one stage to another without even realizing it’s happened except in retrospect.

We finally got the opportunity to see the new Disney/Pixar movie “Brave” today. Being a big Disney fan, I’d been reading online critiques enough to make me curious but not enough to spoil the plot. “Finally, a strong female lead character” read one review “but a disappointing, one-sided stereotypical mother role and a missed opportunity to more deeply explore the oft contentious mother-daughter bond” said another.  Despite the fact that I don’t watch TV, I’d seen the promotional posters and even read an entire article in Wired magazine about how Princess Merida’s (MARE-da) wild red locks were animated. I’d seen various friends’ 140 character reactions, which were, without exception, positive. So I had a few expectations going in: I expected to be entertained, I expected to like the movie, I expected to cry (when do I *not* cry at a Disney movie?), I expected to dislike the mother character, and I expected to identify with and root for the red-headed princess. What I did NOT expect was to look into a giant, movie-screened size mirror and see the villain wearing my face.

[Warning: I will try not to give too much of the plot away here, but if you haven't seen the movie and don't want ANY spoilers, please come back to this post later.]

The movie started innocently enough – on Princess Merida’s birthday. She was a young child, obviously rambunctious, and was hiding from her mother, Queen Elinor, who just as obviously knew right where she was but made a game of searching. When Elinor caught Merida in a bear hug, Elinor pretended to eat her daughter up like a tasty dessert and the giggles of the animated child on the screen were mirrored by giggles in the seats next to me and brought back happy memories of my own wee one’s babyhood not-so-long past, yet seemingly so far away. She was FUN, this queen and mother, and playfully enjoying her daughter.

Dad was doltish but loving, handing the young child a kid-sized bow and teaching her how to shoot arrows. Elinor looked worried for her daughter’s safety, but my oldest and I shared a wink and a nod since I am a certified archery instructor and my fresh new TEENAGER of less than two weeks (um….when did THAT happen!?) asked for and got her own archery set this past Christmas.

But onscreen as in life, things quickly changed. Merida grew up and the queen started teaching her things – important things – like manners and poise and history. Queen Elinor proved herself to be a classy, poised, educated, and firm woman. She took her duty as a mom and teacher seriously and *gulp* I really liked her. She had rules, as all good parents do. And she was consistent with them, as all good parents must be.  And Merida…well…with typical teen-aged swagger, she was sure she knew better.

I kept waiting for the unreasonable Elinor to appear, the one I wouldn’t like, the one who was stereotypical and flat and one-sided, but all I saw…was me. And it wasn’t in my imagination either. My youngest leaned over at one point and whispered, “She’s just like you, mom!”

But this is Disney. And I’m supposed to identify with the PRINCESS. This is NOT how the story is supposed to go!

The story progressed and there was mother-daughter conflict. There was yelling and anger, actions that couldn’t be undone and words that couldn’t be unsaid – all unsettlingly true to life. Then there was a big change in the plot, which in case you are reading and still haven’t seen the movie, I will NOT reveal. But the smart, poised queen ended up…out of her element, shall we say.

I’d better stop here to confess that the more I identified with Queen Elinor, the more I expected to map the princess to my oldest, who has long, wild, unruly (but non-red) hair and a fervent love of both horses and archery. It was clear this was to be a growing up story, and of COURSE this princess would remind me of my own new teenager, right? Except all of a sudden, as the queen was learning new life skills from her daughter, I realized that this wasn’t a movie about me and my oldest, but me and my very non-traditional, goes-against-the-grain youngest. And I realized that as much as we clash, she has things to teach me.

Later in the movie, more becomes clear. It’s clear that the lessons Elinor was teaching to Merida were valuable to Merida after all, not a waste as Merida thought. And it’s equally clear that Merida HAD learned those lessons, well, even as it looked like they weren’t sticking. Elinor was proud of her daughter and loved her, despite the frustrations – and it was a mutual feeling. And in the end, as ALWAYS happens, the child changed the parent as much as the parent changed the child. At least, thank GOD and Walt Disney, it was a happy ending.

Last school year I focused on preparing myself to be a better parent to a budding teenager. I am so thankful that, for now, our relationship is solid and she is going in the right direction for her (also a direction with which I can live).  But this upcoming school year will, I think, be one of focus on how I can be a better parent to the child who is simultaneously most like and most unlike me. It won’t be easy, but I have confidence that there is a happy ending in our future. Because, as the movie reminds us at the very end, our destiny is something we CAN change, if we are BRAVE.

Those of you who know me or follow this blog from way back know that I make cakes, mostly for my kids’ birthdays. My cakes are pretty extravagant. One year it was an Amazon bowling cake. Another year it was a three-dimensional barn cake complete with animals. I’ve even made an anaconda cake and last year, Hogwarts! I even made a turkey cake for some friends and bassoon and snare drum cakes cakes for my sister’s wedding shower! This year’s assignment was for my girls’ Narnia birthday party, so I thought a cake of Aslan would be in order.

I wanted to use a pan I already had, so I turned to my lamb cake pan. I knew I needed some additional dimensional elements to turn the lamb into a lion, and I assumed I would use fondant, as I have before. But after our trip to the Crayola factory in Easton, PA a few weeks ago, my brilliant almost-11-year-old suggested something different: Crayola’s model magic! So I created ears, a tail, and front paws from the easily available, easy to color, and very non-toxic stuff a few days before cake decorating day and set it to dry.

There was only one website I found that used the lamb cake pan to create a lion and though it was cute, it wasn’t the look I was hoping to create. I used two other websites for inspiration and got to work.

First came the cake baking. It started like this.

The next step was to frost the front legs. I intended to leave the model magic it’s own color, but as I worked, I realized that it made more sense to frost it to match. You can see the tail laid out as well, showing the original color of the model majic after we tinted the base yellow color with brown and orange marker.

We are already looking more lion-like! Note the white on the fronts of the paws. This was one of the little details that really made a difference later on. You can still see a bit of the yellow of the model magic showing through at this point.

Next I finished frosting the rest of the body. I frosted flat because I knew the texture would come mostly from the mane later on. I used a toothpick to drag an outline of the back haunches, which I will fill-in later with a contrasting frosting color.

Next came the lion ears. I frosted them with white on the inside and tawny on the outside. Because the model magic is so LIGHT when it dries, I was able to “glue” the ears on with frosting – no toothpicks needed! Interestingly, the lamb ears essentially disappear when the lion ears are added. The lamb pan ears become part of the mane later on. I also added frosting to the tail and some white for the muzzle on this step. At this point, I was a bit alarmed because it looked so much like a house-cat. But hey, what’s a lion but a big, wild house-cat, right?

Next, it was time for the mane. I used a #2 decorating tip to pull from the face back. I noticed that lions’ faces are heart-shaped, so I outlines that shape with a toothpick before I started. I intended to cover the ears all along, so I dragged over them. I also didn’t worry about connecting the disparate mane pieces or how curvy they were. I just had fun with it! I did continue the mane over onto the back of the head, most of the way down.

I was happy with the mane, but in retrospect, I would build out with frosting the space between the right lion ear and the lamb ear from the mold, just to avoid that weird in-cut. But one of my FAVORITE parts was using the same decorating tip to pull the tail. I had already curved the model magic upward and let it dry leaning against an upside-down glass custard cup, but when I added the tail hair, it really made the cake look great!

Finally it was time to attend to the face and paw details. I have come a long way artistically as a result of my older

daughter’s private art lessons! I ran back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room studying her latest painting of a cat for eye and muzzle details, and I think it paid off! I also used the same #2 tip to pull claws of black out of the white part of the paw. They curved just perfectly all on their own (thank you, gravity).

Finally, I added the finishing touches of the girls’ names and ages, as well as an appropriate lion-ly happy “biRRRRthday” greeting and voila! Meet Aslan, the Narnia birthday lion.

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