Mistakes We Make and the Courage to Fix Them

My fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Migaki, taught us it’s important to learn from history so we don’t have to repeat mistakes made in the past. He made that lesson real when he said that last year counts as history, and so does last month and last week.

cheerful elementary school teacher and student high five in classroom

Mr. Migaki said that something is only a mistake if you can’t fix it. Sometimes he would let us retake our tests to fix our mistakes. We got do-overs! He’d grade our papers with a red pen, but if the do-over fixed the original mistake (he never, ever gave us the right answer) he would applaud the success by crossing through the bad grade, turning it into an A.

I couldn’t help but recall this wonderful teacher and give thanks for that life lesson when I got this message from Jenny …

Dear Mary: I have to tell you, in response to 3 Simple Ways to Beat Retailers at Their Own Games, how I fell victim to a good salesman the other day. Fortunately, there’s a happy ending.

I was shopping for groceries and the announcement was to gather around at the end of Aisle 2 in two minutes for an unadvertised giveaway—if you got there right away, you got an eyeglass cleaner cloth, which was promised to be your ticket to something special later, as it was first-come, first-served. You know the drill, I’m sure!

Anyway, I watched the whole pitch. It was for an Ultimate Wine Opener Kit. The products did look great, I must admit! And of course, according to the salesperson, each item purchased separately would cost $170. QVC, he said, had it all for $99 plus S&H. and today he was authorized to sell this set for just $49!

Then he had us come in closer because he told us quietly that if we had our ticket from the beginning, he would also throw in a wine chiller worth $20 for free! Well, most people were smart enough to walk away. However, I really liked the items and $49 for everything seemed ok. As I hemmed and hawed, he pulled out his next trick and put one in my hand. Of course, that sealed the deal and I bought it.

The next day, I had a cleared head and went on Amazon. Sure enough, I found essentially the same set for just $18.

Happy ending? The grocery store took it back and refunded all my money, no questions asked.

Lessons reinforced: 

1. The salesperson is really not offering such a good deal.

2. The free gift is not worth it.

3. When they pull you in closer for a secret, it’s all part of the pitch.

4. Once it’s in your hands it’s all over, so don’t touch it!

I knew all these things, but fell for it anyway. Just glad I could return it and get my money back. Thanks for your all your columns and advice. You are such a help to people like me! Lara

Dear Lara: Your story reinforces just how powerful a well-executed marketing campaign can be. I have no doubt that the company sponsoring this “in-store giveaway” worked for many months and spent a great deal of money crafting exactly every moment of the presentation. Everything from the urgency built into the announcement (in two minutes!) to the way the guy leaned in to make you feel special by telling you a secret—all of it was to manipulate you to act impulsively. And it worked.

But ultimately you didn’t let them control your and your money. You made a mistake, but you didn’t stop at that. You demanded a do-over, then changed your response to the offer. For that, you get an A!

Dear Mary: I love all the tips you give for making your own cleaning solutions. Sadly, over the past year youngest daughter has developed a severe fragrance allergy. This means I can no longer use blue Dawn in any of my cleaning solutions. Do you know of any substitutes for Dawn that would work as well in the homemade laundry detergent? Would liquid castile soap be a good alternative? Jenny

Dear Jenny: You’re not the first to inquire about substitutes for blue Dawn for a variety of reasons. I decided to test your suggestion by substituting the very popular Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap for the 3/4 cup of Dawn called for in the recipe. My immediate reaction was that it mixed up just like blue Dawn.

I ran a few loads of laundry using it. A few days later when I began a laundry load by first shaking the container to remix the ingredients that typically settle, it felt weird like it had thickened. It wasn’t easy to pour—gloppy and slime-like. And by the end of that week, my husband noticed the return of that annoying itchy feeling he gets with commercial laundry products.


And that detergent? It kept getting thicker and gloppier until after 10 days it solidified! I threw the entire mess out—plastic jug and all.

My conclusion is that Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap is not a reasonable substitute for blue Dawn in our homemade laundry detergent. If I were a chemist, I’m sure I’d know why.

For now, I suggest you experiment using only Dr. Bronner’s “baby unscented” Pure-Castile soap as directed on the label, or some other “free and clear” commercial product. Make sure you always opt for an extra rinse and add white vinegar in that last rinse as insurance against any detergent product remaining in your daughter’s  clothes and bedding.

Dear Mary: I love your column and your wonderful tips. With the cold and flu season upon us, do you have any tips on how to sanitize the refrigerator dispensers for ice and water?  I see them as germ collectors. Thanks so much. Sandy

Dear Sandy: Yes! Every kitchen needs an effective antibacterial solution to clean everything from cutting boards to counters, refrigerators and those dispensers you mention. But don’t spend $6 for a 12-ounce bottle of commercial cleaner! Make it yourself: one gallon of 70 F (cool) water plus one teaspoon of liquid bleach. Any warmer and the bleach evaporates; more bleach will harm some surfaces and fabrics. So don’t get obsessive, just measure carefully and stick with this perfect, dirt-cheap recipe that will not harm wood, paint, granite, marble or fabric, but will kill all kinds of bacteria including salmonella.

Regularly sanitize all surfaces with this bleach water, particularly those that may have come in contact with raw poultry including the inside of the refrigerator. Use this to regularly clean all of the dispenser surfaces and parts. Spray, then wipe dry with a clean cloth.

Thanks so much for your kind words and loyalty! 


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  • Kathleen French

    Dear Lara Gets a Do Over, Nice Job. Heads up, since you’re obviously a comparison shopper, get the Amazon shopping app and you can check the price right then and there.

  • Jeannie

    Question about using the bleach water solution for cleaning/disinfecting: You mention spraying and wiping dry; don’t you have to leave the solution on for a certain amount of time for it to do it’s “work”?

  • Sandra

    Don’t cling to a mistake simply because you spent along time making it.