The “Just Before Christmas” Essay Contest

by Mary Ann on December 14, 2010

pictures of gingerbread house

Gingerbread house

When I was in ninth grade I moved to Salt Lake City and attended a brand new high school – Skyline. I was a bit intimidated by the size of the building; the number of students and how much more challenging the work was for me. My grades dropped into the bucket. It was a long year!

At Easter time I noticed a beautiful sugar egg in the home economics room. It was the upcoming project. I asked the teacher if the ninth graders were going to do it only to find that it was reserved for the Juniors and Seniors. I knew right then that I would never get to learn how to make it, we moved too often.

I must have really wanted to make that egg because in an uncharacteristically brave moment I asked the teacher if I couldn’t please have a copy of the directions. She gave them to me. I had been INSPIRED and the teacher had responded, even though in a small way.

I had none of the hard materials to do the project, no money and I knew my parents didn’t have any money. So I improvised. Instead of plastic egg molds from the store I used Leggs nylon containers. Instead of pastry bags I used bread sacks with a hole cut in a corner. Instead of plastic bunnies and chicks I used hand drawn figures.

My mom still has those very first eggs. They are terrible! At the time I was supremely happy with them and thought they were beautiful. This initial inspiration and desire began a 47 year long love affair with cake decorating.

picture of small girl with boat

Jodie's history project

When I first saw the “egg” I knew in my heart that I could do it. I yearned to try. All I needed was a bit of information on how to get started. Then I taught myself. Later I taught myself to make gingerbread houses and eventually moved on to wedding cakes. When a child is inspired about something all we need to do is give them a bit of information, or materials, or tools and they will take it from there!

gingerbread house show picture

A Young Women's group "Best of Show" at Thanksgiving Point

Of all I have learned to do in cake decorating it has been the gingerbread houses that have given me the greatest opportunity to bring joy into the lives of other people.

I have taught hundreds of children and adults to make different variations of them. My family and I have given hundreds away to homeless shelters and community centers. I have taught all of my children to make them and they have earned awards. My youngest garnered her first award at the ripe old age of six. My oldest took first place in a very large contest for adults, at age 15.

old newspaper clippings picture

Best of Show and First Place for the Johnson's

This year has offered new opportunities to carry on the tradition. I hosted a gingerbread party for all the neighborhood children and their parents. My oldest daughter and I have been to school rooms. It has been fun.

Now I would like to share this joy with you, so I am hosting a “Just before Christmas Essay Contest”. This contest is open to everyone near and far. If the winner is within the Salt Lake Area, I’ll come personally to help you build your village. If you’re a distant winner you will receive a full kit in the mail just in time for Christmas. This project is perfect for any child, even the very youngest ones. It is a perfect family activity.

girl with gingerbread house picture

Kate's award winning house

girl with rat cake picture

Kate's first "all alone" cake


ESSAY THEME: The inspiration connection: How being inspired transforms the quality and effectiveness of our education.

POST: Post your entry here in the comment section below.

YIKES, you’ll have to write fast. : )

The winning essay will be posted on my blog New Years Day, January 1, 2011.

Happy writing and I look forward to being with your family.


Mary Ann

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Kimberly December 14, 2010 at 8:06 pm

Mary Ann, what a fabulous story about inspiration! When I would not buy my daughter an atrocious Barbie game boy thing, she made her own out of paper. She is 15 not and still thinks fondly of her process of making it. Have a lovely time reading all of your entries, you have asked such a wonderful question…:)


Jody Jarvis December 15, 2010 at 6:55 am

The Inspiration Connection:
How Being Inspired Transforms the Quality and Effectiveness of our Education.

by Jody Jarvis

When educational experiences are required the result is students who are bored, who day dream, who memorize the minimum required and forget it the next day. For the student, the learning experience seems to drag on forever (“Are we done yet?”) and minutes seem like an eternity.. For the teacher it seems like pulling teeth just to get the student to participate.

When educational experiences are inspired the result is students who are excited, who focus on the activity with zeal, who go above and beyond the expected and remember it the rest of their lives. For the student, the learning experience seems to fly by in a flash (Are we done already?!), hours seem like mere minutes. For the teacher it feels like the student is almost pulling them along instead of the other way around, or that the student is hot on their heels and the race to the finish could be won by either participant – them or the student.

Recently I had an experience in both scenarios. My kids and I participated in an online class for which we had to read several classic books. Two in particular really stood out. One was called Mythology by Hamilton. While the stories themselves can be considered classic, our family’s personal opinion of this rendition was not so great. It was fairly dry reading and we had to push ourselves to even try. None of us finished the book, myself having read the least of the three of us. We did it only because it was part of the class but it seemed to drag on “FOREVER!!” We tried to read the minimum required but couldn’t even pull that off. Our attention as we read was on other things and so for the most part I do not think we will remember much of what we read.

The other story, on the other hand, was a different experience all together. It was called Elantris by Brandon Sanderson. We couldn’t read it fast enough. We couldn’t put it down. Since we read separately in order to be able to mark our books with our personal ah ha’s and underline our favorite lines, I was ahead of the boys in the story. As I got to exciting parts I would exclaim over the storyline, or hint that something amazing was coming up. But I wouldn’t tell them what it was. “You have to read it yourself!” I would say. I didn’t want to spoil it for them. They, for their part, tried their best to catch up to where I was. There came a time when none of us could put the book down, we just had to see how it turned out.

In order to get my kids (and I) to read the first book we had to remind each other, set aside time each day, remind each other, to have it as part of a class assignment, and remind each other again of our need to read it. In other words – require. In order to get them to read the second book all I had to do was give them a taste of how much I enjoyed it myself, to add a little mystery and suspense, and to be the example. In other words – inspire!

What did we learn from the first book? Not much, really. Maybe a tiny bit about the Greek Gods and how depraved they were, but not much else and I am sure we will forget whatever it was we did get out of it in a matter of weeks perhaps.

What did we learn from the second book? Tons! We learned about different leadership styles, we learned that a leader must continue even when it gets hard, we learned about compassion, strategy, love, loyalty.

The difference was partly the books we read (one was very dry, the other quite exciting and thrilling). But I also believe that my example as a parent also played a huge part. I lost interest in the Mythology book, I decided I needed to work on other things (convincing myself that since I wasn’t a true member of the class I didn’t truly need to finish the reading). How might this have played out differently if I had put more effort into learning about Mythology with my kids? How might it have be different if I had been excited to read the book, read it ahead of them and enticed them with hints of what was to come in the next chapters? I was excited by Elantris and my kids were pulled along by my enthusiasm. When they were asked which was their favorite book in the class they both said Elantris. Least favorite? I’ll leave it to you to guess, but I bet you already know.

Now what should I inspire them about next……..?


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