I was only eight years old, but I remember it vividly. I walked through the front door of my great aunt’s house one winter evening and was immediately greeted with the warm scent of freshly baked lemon cookies. In admiration, I watched her carefully dip each cookie into a bowl of thin, marshmallow-white icing, before embellishing it with rainbow sprinkles. Shiny black espresso cups were already placed on the table alongside of more lemon cookies, served so professionally in a dark-blue tin box. The box was imprinted with tiny Christmas wreaths and dotted with snowflakes. I gently lifted a cookie from the top layer, and my eyes widened as I took my first bite. Never before had I tasted a cookie that was baked so perfectly. This was one of the first times I recall being truly intrigued by baking. I remember asking my aunt for her recipe, a piece of paper and a pen, so that I could copy it down and make the cookies myself. She then brought a distressed black and white marble composition notebook to the table and flipped the pages until she landed on the lemon-cookie recipe. I stared at the page and noticed that the words written in black ink were not in English. She translated the recipe for me, since I could not read Italian at the time. Instead of writing, “2 cups of flour”, or “½ tsp. of lemon extract”, I found myself writing, “add about 2 cups of flour, a little lemon extract, and a pinch of salt”. When I questioned why there were no exact measurements, my aunt patiently explained that I didn’t need to follow the directions exactly the way she did. If I continued to practice making the cookies, I would eventually figure out how much of each ingredient I would need, and I could alter each flavor element to my preference.
Each time I attempted baking these cookies, the taste turned out differently. I did eventually perfect my own version of my great aunts lemon cookies; they were less sweet and even more lemony. But even more importantly, I successfully applied my aunt’s lesson to many other areas of my life. One of them being my tenth grade Algebra II Trigonometry class. Math was always a subject which seemed, at the surface, to just be a bunch of numbers attached to ‘x’ or ‘y’. I remember receiving a 55% on my first test. When I stared at the 55%, my thoughts immediately concluded to “I am a failure”. In that moment, it seemed that this one exam had the power to define myself as a failure. However, when I came home that day, I thought of my great aunt. When her lemon cookies didn’t turn out as she had wanted, just as I hadn’t received the grade I wanted, she simply made a new batch and tried again. Thereafter, I simply altered my ‘recipe’, and I started by going to extra help.
Every opportunity to attend my teachers extra help, I went. I continued to put in the effort to improve my grades by reviewing my math notes each night, and repeating practice problems. Despite the frustration and self-doubt at first, by continuing to make little adjustments, my math grades improved. The ingredients I used were determination, confidence, practice, and patience. Of course, I didn’t use an exact amount of each quality. I had to change my mindset from feeling like a failure to feeling accomplished, in order to create my recipe for success.