If I had a dollar for every embarrassing/humbling moment in my life, I’d be a millionaire!
One of the main reasons why I’m usually smiling and laughing is because I’ve gotten really good at dealing with my life-fumbles. As a child, I decided I didn’t want to waste time or energy with sadness or despair. I had enough of it. I figured, if it’s not a life-threatening situation, it will always be more fun to laugh (as apposed to cry) at myself.
If it wasn’t for all of the painful, learning moments, I wouldn’t be who I am. I wouldn’t develop or grow. I take them all on with faith, knowing that it’s what I’m suppose to go through. And when I’m able to look back, I will try to understand.
Allow me to share how this all relates to cake. The first installment of Laughing at Myself (this might end up being a series) shares some of the awesome epic-fails I endured while dealing with the cakes when I was catering. I hope you enjoy them!
First, a little background. If there was ever a time that I was delivering a cake, whether it was 4″ tall or four-tiers tall, I was nervous about it. I couldn’t take a sigh of relief until the cake had successfully reached my customer. I have always taken all of my work to-heart; it is very personal. I believe that when my name is on it, it is a reflection of me – my love, time and intentions. When someone is counting on me, regarding cake or not, I’m going to do whatever it takes to follow through for them. Being ‘only-human’ makes for huge obstacles, especially since I’ve been told over and over again that my name could never be Grace.
RESPONSIBLE FOR CRYING AND SCREAMING CHILDREN
A woman hired me to make a very customized cake for her husband’s 40th birthday. It was going to be a big deal for her husband, their children and their whole family, especially since her husband was in the military and was deployed for almost a year. The week they would celebrate was a home-coming as well. Lots of family and friends would be invited to their home to be together.
I felt blessed to have been chosen to work on the cake for such a special day. I worked with the wife for a couple weeks to set all of the details. The cake would have lots of love and details, with edible symbols and imagery that had special relevance for his life, set on a larger, two-tier cake. The materials alone would be quite expensive. It would also take a lot of my time. The cake was going to be the centerpiece of the party setting. I offered a discounted rate, but it would still be a significant investment for the family.
When it was finally finished, I was really proud of it. I took lots of photos and sent them to my customer, as soon as it was finished that weekday morning.
The cake had to be delivered in the afternoon, and it meant my children had to ride along. They would sit in the back and the cake would be in the front seat, where the epic-fail unfolds.
My kids are (almost) always so good and they know how nervous I can get about cake delivering. As we’re driving down the road, I briefed my then 4 and 7 year olds on how to act when the time comes to enter the customer’s home with me. (I tell them: hold hands, stay close, say hello but don’t walk further than I go. If shoes are removed, remove your shoes, etc.)
Next thing I know, I took a sharp turn onto the main street of their neighborhood. Can you guess what happens? The cake releases from it’s stable, flat position and turns with the car, to become completely and totally destroyed.
It was as if it exploded, that’s how bad it looked. It almost looked like I took a closed fist, and pounded it a few times. I’m not even exaggerating.
I made a deep, loud gasp. The kids were startled, “Oh no! Mommy! What are we going to do?!” I kept cool. Oh my goodness. There’s nothing I can do. I didn’t say any bad words but I fell silent and felt awful. I kept driving to their home, down the road, to the happy people who couldn’t wait to see their cake in-person.
The mom comes out and I tell her I need to show her something. My kids are standing by the car, in the driveway and I open my front door. I tell her, I’m so sorry. I have your cupcakes. I’ll set them and then I’ll go find you other options for cake servings. Her kids come walking up to see the cake. They literally scream, cry and run back into the house. That was the worst part of the experience! There were three children in absolute horror of what I accidentally did. I apologize another few times, and told the mom I’ll be back as soon as possible. I’m going to refund you the entire amount of the cake, so please don’t worry about that.
At this point, I start feeling frantic. My kids feel bad too. We go on a dessert-finding mission. I drive to the closest bakery and the items in the case look horrible. I can tell with my expert-eye, that the cakes are more than a couple days old. I’d never purchase something that looked old. Not good enough. Shameful even. I leave. I go to another store, then another. In all, I purchased three cakes, providing more servings than the cake I had made. I didn’t know what else to do. I had printed some of the graphics onto paper and had them with me. I placed them on the cake in a way that it could look like something. . . but it was something terrible – such an epic fail.
I quietly go back into the home, where the door is propped open. I place the desserts in as presentable a way as possible, and leave so that I’m unnoticed. I was embarrassed enough to not have to make any further eye contact, or to see another child in tears! I’m pretty sure we were both equally disappointed with the situation. I had lost so much and so had she. Human error can be so painful! As soon as I came home, I electronically refunded her money for the entire amount I had charged.
We would see one another again and again, since our daughters ended up being in the same girl’s club. The mom was so kind and she did get over it right away. I never saw her daughter cry, yell or scream in front of me again.
I tried and failed but learned that day:
lesson 1) If possible, schedule deliveries around when I have my children with me, since bring them along can be distracting.
lesson 2 ) Never deliver a cake placed in the front seat of a car. One of my cake-friends told me the right way to do it, in the back of my SUV, flat with a sheet of non skid mat. That’s how it’s done!
lesson 3) Even if someone hates you for what you accidentally did, keep calm and set a loving and sympathetic tone. It’s important to keep your cool, especially when children are present. Everyone is more calm and understanding that way.
2am CAKE WRECKS
I’ve never ever cried over cake but I totally could have!
I think life experience has taught me that when something bad happens, you have to keep your wits about you, even when it’s 2am and you had a very full day.
I typically worked in the middle of the night and on more than one occasion, something went wrong when I was working in the commercial kitchen that I rented by the hour. I was always alone and no matter what happened, I needed to be done before the catering shift came in (sometimes at 5am to prep).
Enough With the Aqua: One time, I was frosting/decorating a 4-tier wedding cake, in an aqua, vanilla buttercream ombre pattern. It was too hot in the kitchen that had little circulation. I never left the kitchen door open or unlocked, in fear of a crazy person rolling in on me, so my only option was to figure it out. I rolled the heavy cake into the walk-in refrigerator and worked while wearing a big puffy jacket. This was only after the fail and lots of sticks of butter to realize that my buttercream was a hot-mess and melting from the cake.
To take the stress level of this cake over the top, when I sent a photo of the cake to the bride the next day, she wasn’t thrilled with the color, so I had to scrape off all of my work and start over again, on that same afternoon (her wedding day). I had to take the monster of a cake home with me to do it there, since the kitchen was not open for me to work in it. Yeah. That happened. I wasn’t angry but frustrated. I did want the bride to be happy and deliver knowing that she would be totally satisfied.
lesson 1) Never, ever send a photo of the wedding cake to the bride or groom. Let the final be a surprise. Everyone should know what to expect since the details are clearly written on the confirmation.
lesson 2) From then on, if a client had a specific color requests, I had them provide me with the Pantone number or paint color swatch, found in hardware stores, so that I could match their color exactly, and not try to read their mind.
Ouch: Another time, I was exhausted, and pulled a muscle near my rib bone, while trying to bring a large, heavy cake into the walk-in-fridge. I ended up ruining the frosted portion of the top layer. I fixed it while it was in the fridge. The next day, my husband came with me to deliver. It was a blessing that the cake order called for rose-placement. I was able to hide any other imperfections with beautiful blossoms. No one ever knew the difference.
Mickey-Mouse Re-Do: Finally, let’s just say, fondant Mickey ears, topping a tiered-cake that’s covered in whipped cream, should never happen. I had to totally re-frost and decorate this cake. The time was at closer to 4am. The lesson I learned was never try to defy the laws of gravity. After this, I would only ever place items onto the top of cakes, after the cake was displayed and at the party.
I was on my way to deliver a cake, assorted desserts and plating for a very special teacher from my children’s school, celebrating his retirement ceremony from the Navy. He’s such a great guy! His reception would be at a friend’s house. In attendance would be his friends and family, along with his co-workers: teachers and staff of my children’s school.
As soon as I had access into the gated community, my car starts acting funny. It’s straining, and lights for the battery, transmission, etc. are flashing on my dashboard. I’m feeling uneasy, not sure what is going on, but certain that something is going wrong. I pull over, to the side of the road.
I think: To be safe, I should shut off the ignition and will start it up again. (Earth to Mili, it’s not a computer or cell phone.) I stopped the car. I tried to turn it over again but it was a no-go. I was totally stuck! Don’t panic. Take a deep breath. You have to walk the desserts to the house.
I didn’t know how far I had to walk, so I put my phone with the talking GPS directions in my pocket and listened to the voice tell me where to go. I decided to walk the cake first, since it would be the first and most important thing to melt in the back of the car. Luckily, it was on the small side so it wasn’t too heavy. The delivery turned out to be only two blocks away. Those two blocks felt like an eternity in the heat and with the added stress of my car, now officially a ‘hooptie’ on the side of the road, in front of a really nice house. (By my personal definition, any make and model car that isn’t functioning properly can be a hooptie.)
The cake made it to the house safe and sound. I explained to the party hostess, that I would be making a few more trips.
I go back to the car, and started walking my bin full of pedestal plating. I’m now sweating. The bin is heavy and cumbersome. It would have been great if I had packed my delivery wagon, but I didn’t. Of course not!
At this point, the hostess realizes what had happened to me. She gets in her car and drives me over to mine. She is beyond thoughtful and kind! Now I’m even more embarrassed! I tell her that it’s all right, that I’d call a tow truck as soon as I was done setting the table with the desserts. She offers her husband to jump it for me, when he comes home. (Which I really didn’t want since he already had his hands so full, helping his wife and entertaining guests in his home.)
Once I’m back in the house, I think, I can only imagine how much more awesomely-embarrassing this is going to be, when my friends/teachers from school see me on the road to the reception, with a broken down car. I’m super-active in my school community so it would be hard not to notice. “Oh look, there’s Mrs. Takashima.” I planned ahead, knowing that the best thing to do would of course be, make fun of myself and ‘smile and wave’ at the passers-by.
I didn’t want to invite myself to hang out at the reception either. It feels awkward for me to be invited to a party, because the person feels obligated, and it’s a last-minute decision. I will try to say no, since I don’t want them to feel obligated and I don’t want to add unnecessary costs to their party. On this day, I couldn’t go, as my husband was deep-sea fishing. That’s right, I couldn’t depend on my husband to come to the rescue.
After I finished setting the table, I wrote a note to the hostess to thank her.
I believe that almost nothing is impossible. However, I’ve dealt with car trouble before. There was less than a 5% chance that it would start up again. As I walk back to the car, I start praying. I don’t stop praying until the key goes into the ignition and . . . it starts up! I feel so thankful and I don’t stop praying until I reach my driveway. It was a long, horrible ride, but I needed to brave it. The car went into the shop and I hope to not be stuck on the side of the road anytime soon.
I’ll stop here, for now.
I hope you have the gift of knowing how and when to laugh at yourself! I’ll promise to keep up with my own sweet comedy show and look forward to sharing more later.