Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Traditions are the glue that helps hold families together. They remind us of times we have shared together and trials we have some through together.

My favorite cake is red velvet cake. For the past few years, my mother has baked me a red velvet cake from scratch for my birthday. This week, my daughter turned eight. She requested that my mother, (her Gigi), bake her a red velvet cake for her birthday.

Red velvet cake is delicious, the deep red of the cake and the white of the frosting provide a rich visual contrast when the cake is cut. It is a sweet, but not-too-sweet, moist cake with a hint of coco that contrasts perfectly with the incredible sweetness of the icing (made with almost a whole box of confectioners sugar).

My first memory of a red velvet cake is from my freshman year in high school. My sister, Kathy, who was a senior, decided to make a red velvet cake for her boyfriend’s Valentine’s Day present. She bought all the ingredients and began the task of making the cake. Not one for following directions, Kathy left out the flour. When she pulled the cake out of the oven, it was flat, and she figured out that she had left the flour out of the cake and threw it out the back door for the birds to eat. Kathy then returned to the store a second time to get the myriad of ingredients again.

The second time around, Kathy remembered the flour, but -- while the cake was in the oven cooking -- she noticed the coco was still on the counter and had not been added. This led to her second cake being thrown out the back door for the birds. Kathy made a third trip to the grocery store.

By this time, Kathy was a bit frustrated, but very focused on reaching her goal. I can still picture her looking down and reading the recipe. I was sitting on the side of the kitchen in the dining area, intrigued by her process, but keeping out of her way as she cooked.

The third time around was the charm. All the ingredients went in as listed, the cake rose as expected and came out of the oven looking lovely. The birds did not get this third cake, but instead Kathy added the icing, and the present was ready to be given.

At the end of the marathon cooking session, the recipe was covered in spots of red food coloring, reminding me of scars, marks of the trials and tribulations Kathy had suffered while making the red velvet cake. It may have taken longer than expected, with a few more trips and ingredients, but Kathy was persistent and successful.

This same recipe has been used for years in our family, and every time it is pulled out, it reminds me of Kathy’s afternoon baking marathon, which eventually led to success due to her persistence.

This year, Gigi did indeed make the red velvet cake for Maggie’s birthday. She added a new twist by using a heart-shaped pan to symbolize her love for her granddaughter. But the larger pan, and my old oven, which tends to cook at whatever temperature it pleases, resulted in burned edges. Gigi solved that neatly: simply cutting the edges off and declaring it a fairy cake, telling us that the cake’s hard bottom should be left for the fairies to eat.

Simple resourcefulness, but it worked. Maggie was thrilled with her cake, the taste was wonderful and the fairies were left with a treat.

We often try to ensure that everything turns out perfectly, especially for our children. If we actually accomplish this task, what do we really teach our children -- to expect perfection and not be happy with less? While perfection is a worthy goal, we must keep in mind that it is a goal that is often missed. When challenges, obstacles or delays appear, it is best to gather ones’ resources, move on and adapt – maintaining the same end goal, but understanding that the process needed to get there might change.

The moral of this story is simple. It’s a reminder that not many things in life turn out perfectly, but if you are persistent and resourceful they will often turn out right, useful and memorable.


Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.