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Friday, Jun. 17, 2016

LIVING

Mom finds comfort in writing and baking as son battles illness

Special to The Olathe News

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Michele Melton of Olathe loves to bake.

She bakes for her family. She bakes for her friends. And when she’s not busy working full-time or running her baking business on the side, she even manages to teach people how to bake.

So after years of being asked by family and friends how to make her popular cake pops — bite-sized pieces of chocolate-dipped cake on a stick — she decided it was time to put her tried-and-true recipe on paper with a children’s book to teach kids how to make her cake pops. But she didn’t want it to be just any book; she wanted it to be interactive.

Last August, she began writing her book “Cake Pops With Marlee,” about a 10-year-old girl who loves to bake. The name Marlee came from a friend of Melton’s son who asked her several years ago to teach her how to make the sweet treat. Melton’s goal was to write a book that would teach children how to bake alongside an adult helper.

“I wanted to not just bring the child into the kitchen but to bring someone with them into the kitchen so they were creating a memory,” Melton said.

Melton’s book was self-published earlier this year. The book is currently available on Amazon and can also be ordered through Barnes and Noble.

It’s carefully laid out with pictures of everything a child will need to make the cake pops. There are pictures of the ingredients so that a child can go to the store with an adult and cross off the items on the list as they buy them. There are also pictures of all the kitchen tools children will need to create the cake pops.

“There is a picture of everything you need in the kitchen from bowls to a mixer,” Melton said. “And there are highlighted words so that kids can learn kitchen words.”

There’s even a picture frame area at the end of the book where a child can paste a picture of their finished product and a note about who helped them create it.

“Cake Pops With Marlee” has been a huge project for Melton, who set out to self-publish the book while working 50 hours a week as a manager at an Olathe restaurant. The task was made even more challenging given the fact that Melton’s husband is regularly gone for five weeks at a time due to his job.

The process of self-publishing the book was both costly and time-consuming for Melton. Things were already stressful when life threw her a curveball in November. That’s when Melton’s 24-year-old son Jake collapsed while at work and was soon diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.

Jake’s cancer diagnosis came just shortly after Melton had committed to publishing her book. Melton was now not only dealing with the devastating news of Jake’s illness, but also the guilt of having started a project that was so big.

“Our world began to change, because I was under pressure to get this book completed,” Melton said. “If Jake’s illness would have happened one month before, I would not have taken every drop of money to publish this book.”

But when the sadness of seeing her only child fight for his life became too much, she sought refuge in the character of Marlee. Melton has since written three more books in the Marlee series, “School Treats With Marlee,” “Halloween Treats With Marlee” and “Christmas Treats With Marlee.”

“When I would get overwhelmed, I went into my office and closed the door and acted like I was Marlee,” Melton said. “It was an escape and it absolutely helped me.”

Melton has constantly been by Jake’s side as he continues to battle his illness.

Melton is working on a publishing deal for “School Treats With Marlee.” What initially started as a way to share a recipe with others has now turned into something much more important for Melton. It’s a chance to remind parents to take the time to cherish their kids.

“You don’t know how much time you have together, so get them in the kitchen and spend time with them,” Melton said. “ Every moment has to be precious.”

Sara Beane: beane913@gmail.com.

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