Moments

Life is made up of teaching moments and learning moments.  As a parent, I see many teaching opportunities.

For instance, earlier this week, I had a discussion with my younger son about Christmas presents.  He wanted to get his brother a gift that cost $15, and he also wanted to buy something for my husband, me, and his grandparents.

He’s seven and doesn’t have $60.  He was upset because he didn’t have enough money to buy everything (I can relate to that!)

I explained that while it is sweet to want to generously spend, thought isn’t measured in dollars.  I told him that if he paid attention to what people like, he could find gifts for a couple of dollars apiece.  I could’ve given him examples of things I liked, but I wanted him to figure it out himself.  Thought.

12-19 Presents

Last night, when I got home from work, they had finished wrapping the gifts (my husband took them shopping.)  I’m curious to see what my little one decided I would like, but part of the fun is the waiting and wondering (and watching him try so hard not to blurt out what he bought) 🙂

Tired from a long day, I really wanted to just relax, but my older son said he needed to take cookies in for a class project the next day.  (He’s been into the last-minute things lately.)  He’d bought break-n-bake cookies so I figured it would be easy.

No.  The cookies had to be shapes (but not trees or Santa.)

12-19 Cookie CuttersI came into the kitchen to find he’d smeared the sticky dough on a cookie sheet and gummed up the rolling pin.  I got out the parchment paper and flour and had him clean up the pan.  All the while, I grouched about how I was tired, had a headache, and just wanted to relax.  In between grumblings, I showed him how the flour kept the dough from sticking.

“This dough really isn’t made for rolling,” I said with a frown.

“I know that now, Mom.”  He shrugged.  “Live and learn.”

Live and learn.  His words cut through my crabbiness.  The best learning involves mistakes.  I used to accept that better when I was younger, but somewhere along the way, I decided efficiency proved to be easier.  How silly to think I’d completed my learning phase.

Cookies in the oven, I wrapped my son in a hug.  “I’m sorry I was cranky with you.  I’m tired, but shouldn’t have taken it out on you.”

Live and learn.

My son’s wise reminder was a proverbial light bulb moment that showed me mistakes are part of life, and learning is a lifetime challenge.

I hope I learn something else today.

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I’ll spend the next couple days trying to catch up on blog reading and comments, but I won’t be online next week.  Just a heads up that I haven’t disappeared… only taking a short break (which will be filled with lots and lots of baking 🙂 )

Mistakes Among Friends

Last Sunday, the church band had some trouble getting the tempo of a song as fast as it needed to be.  The worship leader (who is also the Associate Pastor) halted the music and talked to the drummer and guitar player.  They tried it again, but soon it was obvious that the tempo was still off, so the music was halted.  After another quick meeting, the music began again – this time at a pace that the singers could follow.

It was a bit humorous to watch the exchange because in the years I’ve attended this has never happened before.  Of course there have been stumbles – forgotten words or wrong verses – before, but never a “do-over.”  The worship leader’s comment after the song ended is what stayed in my mind.  He said, “what’s a mistake among friends?  If you’re going to make a mistake, it’s better to be in the presence of friends.”

How different the world would be if it was a friendlier place.  We wouldn’t feel the compulsion to avoid mistakes, be driven to impress those around us, experience the frustration of back-tracking when we lose our way, harbor the worry that our errors will become jokes that are relived for others’ entertainment, or have concern that our failures make us failures.

Failures do define us, but not in a bad way.  I learn much more by doing something incorrectly once than by doing it perfectly a dozen times.  A life lived without failure is a fragile one.  If we never experienced failure along the way, how could we possibly cope with it when it finally did happen?  (Of course, failure is inevitable because we are all flawed humans.)

That morning in church, I learned through the worship band.  I watched them acknowledge the error, rather than try to hide it.  I saw them keep trying, right after the failed attempt, to reach the fast tempo – twice.  I listened to them use humor to show that they don’t take themselves too seriously.  I witnessed the clapping of hands and praises of “Amen” offered in support of the band.

It turns out that a mistake among friends is no big deal at all.

Mistake? No worries!

 

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  — Isaiah 41:10

 

P.S. –   Happy Father’s Day to my hubby, my dad, and the other loving, hard-working fathers that serve as role models, guides and symbols of strength for their children.  Sadly, there are fathers that are not so involved in their children’s lives.  For them, I pray God will strengthen them and help them recognize that their absence leaves a void in their child’s life.  No matter how old the child is, it’s never too late to bond.

What a Caesar Salad Taught Me About Writing – And Life

No one was more surprised than me when I, the clumsy shy girl, landed a waitressing job during college.  I overcame the urge to run home crying on the first night, after being yelled at by an irate woman who didn’t appreciate wearing three Cokes.  (That tray balancing thing takes practice.)  Several months, many patient customers, and few angry ones later, management wanted me to work the day shift during the summer.

“Noooooo!”  I begged and pleaded in a panic.  Mornings at a breakfast restaurant were crazy busy and I had just stopped soiling my customers with food and beverages.  Management would not hear any of my protests.  My choice was to show up at 6 AM wearing my “big girl” pantyhose or return to fast food.

I showed up at 6 AM as ordered scheduled.  As the weeks passed by, my confidence soared because my customers hardly ever wore their food anymore.  One day, a gentleman took a counter seat and ordered a Caesar salad.  I smiled because I hoped for a tip, but inwardly, I groaned.  I hated Caesar salads because it wasn’t a cook order – I had to make them.

In a rush, I measured the romaine in the bowl, added dressing from the white pourable container in the fridge and mixed until the lettuce was coated.  I absently topped with parmesan cheese and croutons, while my mind noted the table that needed coffee refills, another one waiting for their check, and the new couple seated that needed a drink order taken.

I slid the salad in front of the man, confirmed he didn’t need anything else and dashed off to tend to the other tables.  It wasn’t long before the man called me over.

Man:     “The salad tastes funny.  Are you sure you used Caesar dressing?”

Me:        “Yeah, why?”

Man:     He tasted another bite and grimaced.  “Could you have used horseradish?”

Me:        Absolutely.  “I’m not sure.  Let me get you another one.”

As soon as he suggested the possibility, I knew it was likely that I did use horseradish – the Caesar dressing and horseradish were kept in identical pouring containers.  As I mixed the new salad, Deb (the head waitress on the day shift) approached.

Deb:      “Do you know who that is?”

Me:        “Who?”

Deb:      “The man at the counter.”

Me:        Salad Man was the only one at the counter.  “Nope.  Never seen him before.”

Deb:      “That’s Robbie.  He’s one of the owners.”

My breath caught in my throat.  Of all people to serve a horseradish salad, it had to be the restaurant owner.  Lucky for me, he ended up having a sense of humor.

image by PETA.org

This experience taught me a few things about writing (and life in general):

  • Focus.  Devote my full attention to the task at hand, whether it’s developing characters, planning an outline, or putting together a (boring) business document for work.    
  • Don’t forget the details.  Take a final look at an edited story and review character behaviors with a critical eye to find inconsistencies.  Proofread text for errors.
  • Take responsibility.  If something goes horribly wrong in a writing piece, I am fully responsible.  The same philosophy works in life; no excuses.
  • Approach every task like I’m serving a Caesar salad to my boss.  I never know who I’ll meet at a company gathering, who could lead to my next career opportunity, or who may want to publish my writing.  Doing my best ensures that I couldn’t have done more.
  • Laugh it off.  When I make mistakes I laugh about it.  Trust me, this works – I’ve used it often.  Way too frequently, if you ask me.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from an embarrassing moment?

Boy, Am I An Idiot

I do most of my writing late at night, after hubby and the kids have gone to bed (and when I should be sleeping.)  I do get tired and get to the point I can’t think straight, but I know when I start nodding off at the computer, it’s past time to pack it in.  I need to go to bed.  This explains a lot about my blog posts, right?

A week ago Sunday, it appears that I ignored all the signs of fatigue and remained determined to soldier on.  At 10:46 that night, I overwrote one of my short stories with another one.  I didn’t discover it until last Thursday, when I went to print it so I could fill out the weak areas.

Here’s how it happened.  I had 2 versions of “Story 1” – one for my class assignment and one for the writing contest.  (There were some minor formatting differences.)  I discovered more changes after I read the printed copy, so I updated my class assignment version.  I decided it would be easier to do the formatting changes on the writing contest version than to make the various text changes, so I did a ‘save as’ on the assignment copy and chose what I thought was “Story 1 – writing contest,” for the file name in but instead, I chose “Story 2 – writing contest.”

There are no older versions to retrieve, I didn’t have a printed copy and I efficiently shredded my notes, which were written on scrap paper.  Since Thursday, I’ve been trying to piece it back together again.  Yeah, I know – too dumb to deserve sympathy.  Take my advice:  don’t EVER do this 🙂

Even an idiot (like me) can overcome adversity.  At first, my inner optimist was frustrated and berated my careless self.  But since stewing about my error can’t rewrite the story, so here are some things I thought of to cheer myself up:

  1. The contest deadline for the story that got wiped out is 12/1 – the other contest deadline was 11/1.  I have a month to recreate the lost story.
  2. I ended up with THREE copies of the story for the 11/1 contest deadline, so I managed to get the story submitted.
  3. I copied all of my files onto a thumb drive and will back up changed files every Sunday.
  4. Instead of using scratch paper, I’m using a spiral notebook when I’m putting stories on paper.  The contents of the notebook will not be shredded.  (I prefer to use my laptop, but there are times when it’s inconvenient or impossible to do it.)

I’d like to say this was the only dumb move I’ll make, but I’m afraid there will be more lurking in my future.  I’ll look on the bright side:  my mistakes give me something to blog about 🙂

Sunny Side of Mistakes

Update:  In class on Tuesday, the instructor of my writing class told us what to do with the rules we have learned so far:  learn and understand them…and then forget them and write the story.  Yay!  I’m free!

Now to today’s post…

Several days ago, the local news stations broadcast a story about a guy who robbed a convenience store with a plastic bag over his head.  Yes, a PLASTIC bag.  Mid-robbery, he apparently started to suffocate and had to rip the bag so he could breathe.  He’s now (in) famous – his face has been on several evening newscasts since then. (True story – if you don’t believe me, Google “plastic bag robber”.)  I bet he regrets his answer to “would you like paper or plastic?”

After I stopped laughing, I wondered if this story held any lessons that could benefit me (other than the obvious:  if I decide to rob a convenience store, think “green” and use paper or reusable.)  In keeping with my blog theme, I’m refering to my writing self, and here’s what I came up with:

Have a solid plan – (had the robber thought through his plan, he may have realized – and corrected – the deficiencies.)  Have a story idea and think it through.  It can be as simple as knowing the beginning and ending to writing chapter summaries to detailed and structured scene plans.  (If you lean toward being super-organized, check out DarkSculptures Thinks for informative “how-to” posts on novel planning.)

Be flexible / prepare for the unexpected(had the robber contemplated near suffocation or damage to the bag, he might have brought a ski mask for back up.)  As you write characters, you may find out that some scenes, or even the ending you planned, have to be changed to be consistent with their character.  That’s okay – go with it.  This happened to me on Kharma’s Way.  When the characters developed, I realized that my ending wasn’t going to work because a character would’ve done something that did not match the behavior throughout the rest of the story.  Instead of forcing it, I let the characters present an alternative ending.

Learn from mistakes(the robber may have figured out it’s easier to get a job, or, if nothing else, he realized that plastic isn’t the best disguise.)  If a story falls flat, do an autopsy on it – critically review it to find out why.  As a writer, it can be hard to do this yourself, so here’s another time when readers come in handy.  Focus on the weaknesses and turn them into strengths.

Listen to others – (I have to think that the robber heard it before – maybe from his own mother – that plastic should be kept away from the face.  Mama was right…again.)  I’m not saying to jump in and change everything that a reader comments on, but if more than one person zeros in on the same thing, it should be reviewed so you can make a conscious decision about whether or not a change needs to happen.

Don’t dwell on mistakes – Mistakes can sometimes be painful and embarrassing.  They can hold you back and make you shy away from a challenge, or they can be a motivator for improvement – you choose. 

Just remember, it could be worse….

You could be in jail watching yourself on the news with a ripped plastic bag on your head 🙂