We make mistakes... that's why pencils have erasers!

We make mistakes… that’s why pencils have erasers!

Not that I need any more projects to keep me occupied — I’m fully occupied, thank you very much!

Still, I may have to find the time to stitch this on a fancy, yellow toile pillow in, of course, a beautiful turquoise thread:

Failure is not an option
It’s a given

I got this crafty idea after experiencing a series of epic fails here at the hovel — mostly my own, but as you shall see, even the cat managed to get in on the act. (Sadly, cats, even my “advanced” feline, can’t read — so, the pillow will be of no help to him. No help, whatsoever.)

First, we’ll deal with the human element.

Today is my husband’s birthday. I decided to make him his favorite dinner and a cake — I even arose ridiculously early to do so. When I reached into the vegetable bin I realized that I was out of onions. Who runs out of onions? Why, the woman who spent over $100 on groceries just yesterday, that’s who! (Don’t even get me started on the fact that I paid $10 for cavatelli — highway robbery!) Due to the dearth of onions, I opted to go with Plan B — make the cake first, grab an onion from work and make the “gravy”* and the meatballs later. Okay.

I have successfully made no fewer than 500 box cakes in my lifetime. I swear. It’s really simple, actually. Open box, pour dry ingredients into bowl. Add eggs, oil, and water. Mix. Pour into pan (in this case, my favorite Martha Stewart lime green Angel Food Cake pan). Easy peasy! I have no idea how I managed to mess this up, but mess it up I did. As I was mixing it, I realized that it was too thick. (Something about the concrete-like consistency of the batter tipped me off!) I consulted the back of the box (this time with my glasses on!) and discovered that I had failed to add the appropriate amount of water. The instructions call for 1-cup of water, I had only put in 1/3 of a cup. Don’t ask me why. It’s not like I don’t know that more water than oil is the common ratio in these mixes. (The recipe did call for 1/3-cup of oil, so I can only guess that this is where I had, sleepily, gone wrong.)

The deadly combination of a lack of caffeine and my foolish attempts at reading without my glasses were, surely, to blame. So, I poured myself a cup of coffee, grabbed my glasses, and did some basic math. Guess what? I should have added “get scratch paper” to the list of things I needed. Because I didn’t do the mental math correctly. I added, instead of the 2/3-cup of water necessary, a whole cup of water! I did not, however, realize this until the cake failed to rise or to cook properly. That’s when it hit me that I’m an idiot who cannot be trusted to do anything requiring math and/or reading skills at the crack of dawn — particularly before I’ve had my coffee or failed to locate one of the ten pairs of reading glasses I have stashed around the hovel. Ugh!

So, now, I have to come home from work at 4:30 and make EVERYTHING. Double Ugh!

This throws a small wrench in the works. Because I had planned on taking my table outside, mixing up some dark wax, and repeating the waxing process that failed miserably the other day. For those of you who have been following the “hovel purge” and my “adventures in redecorating”, you know that I painted some old tables and added some graphics to the tops. Well, actually, I added one graphic to the top of the side table — but I plan to do the coffee table in the near future — if I can crack this dark wax dilemma.

This being my first foray into the wonderful world of chalk painting, I think I did a pretty bang-up job on the tables. My husband hates them, so that tells me that they are probably just delightful. I then chose an image, liberated a neglected overhead projector from the elementary school, printed out the image, traced it onto transparent paper, projected it onto the tabletop, penciled in the design, and commenced painting. It’s not perfect, but I’m pretty proud of having accomplished it at all!

I then “distressed” the table. To seal it, I decided to go with the paste wax method, but I wanted the tables to be a little darker than the dove gray that I applied to them. That was my plan all along. To paint them lighter and darken them up a bit with either glaze or dark wax.

So, the other morning, I proceeded to mix up a batch of dark wax. To this end, I opened up a can of paste wax, scooped some out, added a couple of dollops of a graphite gray color, and stirred it up. (Because that’s what the folks on the interwebby thingy SAID to do!) For some insane reason, I did this INSIDE the house. (The interwebby folks DID warn against this, but I did NOT heed their sage advice!) I nearly asphyxiated my daughter, the cat, and myself. Lesson learned. Apply wax OUT OF DOORS. Listen to the interwebby wax experts! After nearly poisoning the inhabitants of the hovel, I realized that it was all for naught — the wax did absolutely nothing to alter the color of the table. At that point, I was too light-headed to carry the flipping thing outside, so I just left it for another day.

That day was supposed to be yesterday, but it rained. Of course it rained. Today is nice, though. I can probably do it today. Oh, wait. I won’t have time! Because my cake was a disaster and I need an onion. Epic fail!

Mine were not the only epic failures of the week. (And it’s only Tuesday!) The cat, the lovable, yet useless, “Great Fanganini” has caught the epic fail bug himself. It’s the only thing he’s caught. Because we have a mouse. Yes. You heard me. There is a rodent taking up residence somewhere in my kitchen.

I can’t say that I didn’t know something was amiss. For a couple of weeks now The Great Fanganini has been hissing to beat the band. (On an interesting and, somewhat puzzling, note — The Great Fanganini has only been hissing for a short time. He’s 14, but only “discovered” that he can hiss a little over a year ago — mostly he hisses at his own tail.) Understandably, as hissing is a fairly new part of his repertoire, I wasn’t overly concerned by this behavior, in and of itself. He has been, however, hissing in the kitchen and then tear-assing through the house — as a kind of follow-up to the hissing. This is behavior that I found somewhat strange, yet I chose to blissfully ignore it.

This might be the time to give you a little background on The Great Fanganini and his response to interlopers, particularly his usual response where interlopers of the rodent, avian, or insect variety are concerned.

The Great Fanganini came to us at a very early age — he was found in the garage at our previous dwelling, abandoned by his mother. He was still wet. He had a sibling. Sadly, said sibling did not “make it”. Too frail for the world was she.

Fang and I, first with an eye-dropper, then with a small nipple attached to a tiny bottle, hand fed this barely furry yet creature some VERY EXPENSIVE liquid nourishment. He flourished. He survived. The plan was to nurture him until he was strong enough and then find him a good home. Fangette had other ideas. And, so, he became ours.

Here’s what I’ve discovered about cats that have been raised in such a way — hand fed and nurtured at an early age by humans — their basic instincts are slightly askew. He lacks, for example, the understanding that mice are to be hunted down and, of course, destroyed. Ditto birds and insects. Instead of grasping what would seem to be one of the fundamental truths of the animal world, when faced with an uninvited guest of the rodent, avian, or insect variety, he runs like the wind. And, now, of course, he hisses.

On the other hand, Fang has taught him to “fetch”. The Great Fanganini, having no understanding that the act of playing fetch is usually reserved for pets of a canine variety, took to this activity like a fish takes to water. Seriously. He could go on “Letterman” — he would be the darling of “Stupid Pet Tricks”. Because his is an unusual talent for a feline. It is also a little weird and wacky. What can I say? Look who he learned it from.

The other night, Fangette claimed that she thought she saw a mouse. Further, she insisted that she saw a mouse in the jaws of The Great Fanganini. I now believe that she saw a mouse (I’ll admit that I didn’t at first — so far fetched was her second claim that it rendered her first claim unbelievable!). While I am big enough to admit that I was wrong about there being a mouse in my house — having recently seen it with my own eyes — I still refuse to believe that our cat went anywhere near the thing. So, unless the mouse jumped into the cat’s maw, I can only conclude that Fangette was suffering from a severe case of sleep deprivation — she was pulling a mid-term exam “all-nighter” when she swears she saw a mouse tail hanging out of the cat’s mouth. She also claims that she heard squeaking. I call “Bullshit!”

Here’s why. Before we moved here, we lived somewhere else (of course we did!) — somewhere else that used to have a big, giant tree in the backyard. A big, giant tree that became diseased and had to be removed. We discovered, following the stump removal, that this gigantic, old tree harbored not only dutch elm disease, but also many, many generations of field mice. We also uncovered some interesting facts about field mice. They have a built-in homing device — which is just a fancy way of saying that they return to the places where previous generations have flourished — regardless of where they are born. It is imprinted upon them. Genetically.

That’s a pretty cool “fun fact”. I know. And I would think so, too — if my knowledge was gleaned from watching “The National Geographic Channel”. Unfortunately, my experience with this particular element of mouse behavior was more “up close and personal” than I would have liked.

As you may have guessed, the field mice returned to spot in my backyard where once there stood a mighty elm tree — a mighty elm tree which had harbored untold numbers of their forebears — but which was now nothing more than a gaping hole in the ground. The poor little mice had lost their ancestral home. Boo-hoo! I know. It was very sad. So was the loss of hundred-year-old tree — but it really was best that the tree meet its demise than have a strong wind spell the demise of my family.

The mice did present a bit of a problem, though. The loss of the tree sent them scurrying for shelter, warmth, and food in other places. Some of them chose my house. A good number of them, let’s call them the intelligent ones, remained in the basement or other out-of-the-way spaces. Others, I’m sure found warm, dark hiding spots somewhere close by — like the garage, perhaps. Or at the neighbor’s. A few, though — a brave and stupid few — wound up climbing two sets of narrow stairs and entering MY home. A home that housed a pretty big and, as we would soon discover, fairly useless, cat.

Where job descriptions are concerned, cats have it pretty easy. We have the expectation that our dogs will be our “best friends”. Cats do not bear this burden! And thank God — they would really NOT be up to the job. Dogs are also expected to be constantly at our sides. Cats come around when they feel like it. We rely on dogs to be obedient. They even have schools for this. Can you even imagine a cat being enrolled in anything called “Obedience School”? That would surely be a hoot. They simply would not comply. They do their own thing. Go their own way. They’re the hippies, the free-thinkers of the house pet world. Once in a while a cat can be taught to do a thing — like fetch hair elastics — but that doesn’t mean they’ll do it on command. Cats have to be in the mood for that sort of tomfoolery. They cannot be relied upon to perform for company. (This is why you’ll never see The Great Fanganini on “Letterman” — I’d get there with a pocket full of hair elastics and the cat would, more than likely, just blink blankly at me, as if to say, “What? You expected me to perform? For that jackass? Ho-hum. Aren’t you stupid?” — Yeah. That’s about how that would play out.)

I did think, foolishly and naively, that cats — even bottle-fed ones — had some understanding that in exchange for being cared for, loved, fed, taught to fetch, allowed access to windowsills and countertops (just try and stop them!), and provided with clean places to poop, would reciprocate by keeping the home front free of vermin. Many of them may. Mine does not.

Mine runs in the other direction. Mine hides. His only usefulness where mice are concerned is that he manages to scare them to death. (Mice have small, rapidly beating hearts — hearts that give out rather quickly when they are afraid — just another “fun fact” I learned along the way!) They die, now and again, as a result of fear. Cats who kill mice or birds or insects are, in most cases, proud of themselves. Most will bring you the dead carcasses of their conquests — to demonstrate their prowess. Not mine. Mine whines, mewls, and nudges my leg until he is able to lead me to the dead mouse — the dead mouse with nary a scratch on him — splayed out in the middle of the living room floor. The only thing missing from this happy little vignette is the chalk outline and the crime scene tape. I, then, am left to dispose of these creatures — creatures who, no doubt, suffered a cardiac arrest beneath the coffee table.

It’s unfortunate that The Great Fanganini will be unable to learn from his failures as a mouser. I, however, can learn from my failures. In terms of the cake, well, I’ll just have to make another one. The next time I’ll be more careful. I’ll wear my glasses and have a cup of coffee prior to embarking on anything baking-related. If I just check the cupboard and/or the fridge prior to going to the grocery store, that will go a long way toward avoiding being surprised at my lack of key ingredients. And waxing indoors? That’s a no-brainer. There’s almost nothing better than near-asphyxiation for learning your lesson the hard way.

I would be interested in teaching the cat a thing or two about his natural enemies, but why set myself up to fail? Over the years I’ve learned that lesson, too. I try to avoid going into a losing situation. I have learned to accept my limitations — to admit that I can’t be good at everything. Although, really, I should be able to make a box cake.

I’m human, though. Flawed and mistake-prone. As such, I need constant reminders. Reminders that failure is not only an option, but, indeed, a given. I’ll let you know how that pillow is coming along.

*GRAVYin this context, “gravy” means, to those of you not of Italian descent (and I had to learn this, too — being of Irish ancestry), “spaghetti sauce”. I make my mother-in-law’s “Sunday gravy” almost exclusively. “Sunday gravy” is made with meat. It’s the only one my mother-in-law ever made — even if it was Tuesday. It’s not complicated. It doesn’t take forever. It does, however, require an onion — as do the meatballs. Oh, and it’s delicious. There is almost nothing better than cavatelli (the “gold” of the pasta world) mixed with Rose’s gravy and finished off with a dollop of “pot cheese” (which is just another way of saying “ricotta cheese” — again, a term I also had to learn)!

photo credit: pencil

8 thoughts on “FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION — It’s a Given!

  1. Vanessa says:

    Epic. I love, LOVE your writing (good grief I am the biggest broken record OF LIFE). Also, you used the term “to beat the band” and as such, I am dead from awesomeness.

    That is all.


  2. Are we twins? Or are we channeling each other’s lives? Hahahaha


  3. My list of these failures from lack of caffeine grows longer and longer.


    • javaj240 says:

      It used to be just the caffeine, but now I have to add “find glasses” to the mix…. it’s all too much to remember some days! LOL!


  4. Martha Stewart? Don’t let Onthehomefront hear about this; you’ll be lynched.
    I used to have a cat that would play happily for hours retrieving a ball of silver paper dropped down a two storey stairwell. He was a crap hunter to.


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