Within Adversity and Mistakes Lie Opportunity

Let me tell you a little story. It goes something like this… 

One day an ambitious woman decided to make her mother a four-layer cake (white with her favorite buttercream frosting) for a landmark birthday and surprise party . She even considered trying her hand at making frosting roses but had back-up decorations should she fail. Opportunity, yes…without pressure.  

The woman baked the cakes the night before and allowed them to cool overnight, even made the frosting before she headed for bed and set her alarm for early morning to complete her mission. See – the woman had discovered years before that even though morning wasn’t her favorite time of day… early morning consistently proved to be a peaceful time that after a quick half-cup of coffee creative juices flowed and a deep zen-type focus would kick in. It’s the “riding the wave” under a muse’s smile and she was actually looking forward to the time. Looking forward to it so much she awoke several times discovering only an hour or two has passed before sighing and going back to sleep.  She rose 10 minutes before the alarm went off and eagerly went downstairs.

I’m glad in hindsight to report “Things did NOT go as planned.”  

It was early morning, yes. Consumed half-cup of coffee, yes. Deep zen-type focus? No.  That elusive and intoxicating unicorn had been shooed away by two snarfy kitties and their on-going ‘Operational No-Growl to Peaceful Co-Existence. ‘ Their antics included one older “how dare you exist” cat attempting non-whole-heartedly to hold back some of her hisses and growls while the younger and clingier made a game of being underfoot and practicing world-champion styled  “rub at the human’s legs.” 

Not a big deal.  The woman had often dealt with interruptions and adversity before. The key, she decided, was to refrain from many lower body movements. She smiled to herself. Problem solved. Now to deep focus

 Achieved!! Layer 1 on the cake plate and iced, layer 2 on and iced….layer 3 on and iced….layer 4 on and …. Ignore the cat, ignore the cat. The cake slide slightly to the side. 

Can’t have that. Nudge it back. Top layer iced. Okay. Frost the side and…. 

A piece of the bottom layer crumbled.

Dang it…well, that can be hid under the frosting. Slides again..

No, no!  Nudge it back. Okay…. Wish this cat would go away. Don’t think about that.  Focus. Focus. Breathe. Okay. We’ll grab more frosting and …. The cake slides again. 

 Damn it. Stop. Nudge. Nudge. Hmmmm…. Do I have toothpicks? Would someone accidentally bite into a toothpick?  I could…

The woman pushed the cat away with a foot. Cat came back. Pushes away. Comes back. Sigh. Doesn’t matter.  Maybe if I  nudge the cake more than necessary the other way and when I frost the opposite side… Oh good…Good… This is going to work.  

The muse creeps into the room, taps the woman on the cheek and whispers “Open your eyes. Your cake looks like the leaning Tower of Pisa.”  

Sigh. She nudges the cat away. Let’s see…I can… Cat comes comes back with an extra exuberant rubbing.   

“Will you get away from me!” The woman snaps and pushes cat away with the top of her foot.  Cat comes back. “GET.”

The cat looks at her incredulously. 

“GOOOOOO!”

Both cats bolt. The woman turns back to her project and takes a deep breathe, and another. Okay… How to deal with this and…

The top layer cracks…. Maybe I could hide that under frosting and… The crack ripples deeper in defiance it would seem of solution. Maybe I could make a Mt. Vesuvius cake? Mt Vesuviuos. How would I decorate for that? Not really appropriate for a birthday cake. 

 The woman frowns. Sits  in front of the cake. The thing mocks her with another rippling crack. I could just buy a store-bought cake. She reaches for the bowl for a taste of the perfect frosting. She closes her eyes.  Damn it. This is too good to throw out. Cake pops? Cake pops. I’d need a lot of chocolate and sticks. The woman glances at the clock. No, not enough time for a store trip let alone make them. It’s hopeless. 

It is here that a voice from the past knocks aside the mocking muse. The voice is her mother’s and the message is an old adage repeated past counting. “Necessity is the mother of invention.” 

Well, I could get out a casserole pan and make one really huge cake pop. Hmmmm….

And voilà! The invention of the Casserole Cake arrived into the world. 

Recipe: One cake disaster crumbled, scooped into pan, spread out, coated with a thin layer of white chocolate from the white chocolate bar originally bought to make the white chocolate fruit dip, and then decorated with back-up decorations. Easy-Peasey, yes?  

[As to the fruit dip: Dig into pantry until you find left-over black wafers of white chocolate from an earlier project. As black colored fruit dip is not appropriate for a mom’s landmark birthday add strong tint of rose to the cream cheese and yogurt part before adding melted chocolate. The color will be transformed into … dusty-dark lilac purple color. Yes! Do-able. Yay!]

The woman also bought store-bought cake as well for the candle blowing out ceremony because who knew if the disaster would turn into a decades old telling like the infamous Thanksgiving chocolate pies ….BUT the consensus for  Casserole Cake? “Yummy!  When are you making it again? Can I have another serving?”

Added bonus? The woman had a nice story to convey to her mother of how one of the life-lesson learned at her mother’s knee still benefits her to this day.

Oh, and the young kitty-cat? Still as affectionate as ever…but slightly less underfoot. 

Happy Birthday Mom! I love you!

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The Road to Success (pep-talk)

For myself and all my friends who have a dream….each day take one more step…always.

1. Keep your determination. Stride forward.

“Determination gives you the resolve to keep going in spite of the roadblocks that lay before you.” ~ Denis Waitley

2. Surround yourself with positives

And to help take that un-demoralized trudge forward…to turn each step into a the springful celebration of journey surround yourselves, as much as possible, with the greats.

For small people (not talking stature) will jealously hold you down, feed you a steady diet of discouragement and will go out of their way to block you from the figurative stars.

The great ones will spark your inspiration.

(Of course there are good friends who’ll give you fair assessment too)

3. Keep it in perspective

Keep the journey in perspective. In the words of the Wise Girlfriends Coffee Cliche “Compare and Despair…yeah, don’t do that.”

“It is the mark of great people to treat trifles as trifles and important matters as important.” ~ Doris Lessing

4. And enjoy.

“Life is a song – sing it. Life is a game – play it. Life is a challenge – meet it. Life is a dream – realize it. Life is a sacrifice – offer it. Life is love – enjoy it.” ~ Sai Baba

If the spark of wonder, of playfulness, of quiet enjoyment and love leave you…what is left to you? Your beautiful goal isn’t quite as beautiful is it?

Ok. Happy and determined. Deep breathe. Ready to take on the World.

The Sword and Pen OR seeking expertise while having fun

On a day many were drinking green beer, members of neighboring shires gathered for an afternoon of melees (battles) with swords and shields, armor, archers and spears while the ROTC trained nearby. And all this in a Pennsylvania college town

No. I’m not making this up. I was there today waiting semi-patiently for the doors to open at 1 pm with 40 some others so the battles and duals could commence .

It was a fun afternoon.

And where was I in all this? Mostly outside the gym with the other fencers and increasing my knowledge of swordplay with rapier and dagger and training others. Yes, I’m talking real swords and daggers with blunt edges, blade flexibility and blunts on the tips.

As a writer, this activity gives me a wide playing field of experiences to draw from and resources to go to when I need to ask questions such as how would one train and what the different great masters taught. Some of these fencers have been training for 20 years and more and are a wealth of information. All great stuff – though, this by far, is not the only and maybe not even the biggest reason I do this. It’s immensely fun.

Convenient perhaps that my hobby and my world-setting walk in tandem currently. But there are other aspects of my make-believe story world and other experts I had to tap such as speaking with equestrians (i.e. horse people), costume designers, historians and others.

And people generally like being interviewed by a writer.

[“Hey honey, I got interviewed by a writer! How cool is that? Maybe he/she will put me in their book.] — Who had difficulty hearing this in your head?

But even with this wide-range permission slip, many writers, particularly new ones, cringe at the idea of seeking experts in a field. As a whole, we do tend to be introverts (with a few exceptions)and perhaps in a way there is an aspect of necessity for the creative spark BUT it is important to look up, live life and sometimes, even move out of a comfort zone.

Anyway, the medieval free company/mercenary household I hang with are training for the big annual event where approximately 14,000 people from around the world (and other kingdoms) will get together for two weeks in a temporary city to have a medieval war. We are talking days of up to thousands on a side doing battle in the woods, in the field, and in the town. And afterwards there will be medieval leisure activities — courtly dancing, storytelling, plays, concerts and parties.

I’d love to hear who and what groups, organizations and experts you tap for your story worlds.

Happy writing!