Skip to main content


December 22, 2014

Carine McCandless on the Sweetness of Cupcakes and THE VELVETEEN RABBIT

Posted by emily

Carine McCandless --- beloved sister of literary icon Chris McCandless, whose life story captured the hearts of millions of people around the world --- played a vital role in the success of INTO THE WILD, the internationally bestselling book written by Jon Krakauer. THE WILD TRUTH is her deeply personal account of the events that led up to Chris’ departure and her own search for redemption in its aftermath. Here, Carine shares another touching story of a bond between siblings, a magical Christmas past, and a classic children’s story whose sweetness long outlasted the Grinch.

Ten years ago, I carefully wrapped THE VELVETEEN RABBIT inside distinctive paper I was certain would be considered North Pole quality by my five-year-old daughter, Heather. As she slept on Christmas Eve, I slid the sparkly package between the wall and plethora of stuffed animals sitting atop her bed. I sprinkled red and green glitter down the hall and onto her bedroom carpeting to provide indisputable evidence that Santa himself had made the drop. I imagined sitting with her at bedtime after church on Christmas night, reading the Margery Williams classic together and discussing the transforming power of love. To my surprise, she insisted on reading two books, and was far more interested in taking those lessons from the Grinch than from a cuddly bunny. But her reaction to the thought of Santa bringing her that special gift was priceless; with eyes as wide as saucers, she came down the hall, trying to explain to me through hyperventilated breaths that Santa had been in her room.

A decade and an additional daughter later, I sat in eight-year-old Christiana’s bed reading a different book --- CUPCAKE by Charise Mericle Harper. I had picked the book up for three simple reasons while browsing the children’s section of a local bookstore: 1. Christiana loves cupcakes; 2. The author’s middle name sounded like “miracle,” and my youngest daughter is a truly amazing kid who happens to have Down syndrome; and 3. The author’s last name was the first name of my publisher, HarperOne, with whom I had spent the majority of 2014, focused on completing my memoir. Seemed like good karma all around. What I failed to realize was that at the end of this cute and quick read was a recipe to make our very own cupcakes completely from scratch --- even the buttercream frosting. I’m typically a brownies-from-the-box kind of mom, and after having been on a writing schedule that seemed to absorb every ounce of my being outside of mommy-hood, I couldn’t imagine the thought of breaking out more than three ingredients. I cringed as I prepared for what was coming.

“Oh! Mommy!” Christiana beamed amongst the stuffed mammals and Disney princesses she slept with, “We have to make these! Please, Mommy, can we?”

“Oh…um…well, sure, sweetie!” My tired synapses couldn’t fire up a quick explanation as to why the task would be obviously impossible. “We’ll just go to the grocery store tomorrow and get everything we need after school, once Mommy’s done on her computer, and you and Heather have both finished your homework, and after your speech therapy appointment. And after dinner.”

The kid didn’t bite. “Yeah! Yummy!” she squealed. “This is going to be so much fun!”

The following evening, after digging through my cupboards to see what remnants of past baking ventures I could find, I was relieved to discover that a trip to the busy market full of holiday shoppers would not be required. I checked the expiration dates on the baking powder and confectioner’s sugar. I went on faith that sugar cookie sprinkles had a shelf life of at least a quarter century. “Alright, ladies, let’s do this!” I called from the kitchen. Christiana came running down the hall, hair tied back, excitement flowing from her eyes and arms flailing. Absent one child, I walked into the family room, removed the headphones from the teenager’s ears, and prodded, “It’s time to make cupcakes, princess.” After a healthy pause and a tilt of the head with volume lowered, Heather realized I was serious, and rose to join us.

It wasn’t nearly as complicated as I had expected. Excess flour drifted in the air, sugar crunched under our feet, and globs of frosting took flight, as Heather and Christiana struggled to control the hand mixer and their giggles. The girls and I were quite impressed with ourselves once the cupcakes were decorated and duly sampled.

Then it was time to see the girls off to bed and sit with my laptop for another long night. My book had just been released, and while I was extremely grateful for its success, it had taken on a life of its own that demanded a lot of care and feeding, obliterating my fantasy of having a surplus of time on my hands. I was still staring at the batter-laden mounds of baking tools and accessories when Christiana skipped back into the kitchen, already in her pajamas, wearing a Santa hat and teetering on the final edge of a serious sugar rush. “Goodnight, Mommy,” she smiled and gave me a hug, then danced her way back to the end of the hallway where her big sister was waiting. “Wait!” I called after her, “don’t you need my help brushing your teeth?”

“Already did!” she quipped back and grabbed Heather’s hand.

“She did,” Heather concurred. “I watched her.”

“But what about her bedtime story?” I asked.

“We got it covered, Mommy!” Christiana answered proudly.

Heather grinned and held up a book with her other hand. It was THE VELVETEEN RABBIT. Apparently in the long run, Williams’ fluffy bunny had been more influential than Seuss’ green grouch. The girls walked down the hall and into Christiana’s room. As their lights went out, I finished up in the kitchen. The mixing beaters were the last item to be cleaned. The buttercream tasted oh so sweet.