Monday, December 5, 2011

Mentoring Magic

I think it started when she was still in the womb. While pregnant with my oldest daughter, Cami, I was diagnosed with hyperemesis. For those of you lucky enough to NOT know this term, it’s defined as “unrelenting, excessive pregnancy-related nausea and/or vomiting.” Think of it as EXTREME “morning” sickness 24/7 for the entire pregnancy.

While pregnant with Cami, I was either in bed, on the couch or on the floor in the bathroom. Ironically, one thing that helped me get through the never-ending days and nights of nausea was the Food Network. I could barely keep down ANY food or drink. So I was living vicariously through these shows – watching someone else prepare and taste these wonderful dishes. And so began my (and my yet-to-be-born daughter’s!) love affair with cooking shows.

Like most little girls, Cami’s childhood has included a toy kitchen, pretend food, kid-size cooking utensils, aprons and the ever-popular Easy-Bake oven. Our special mama/daughter dates almost always involve a stop at a café and bakery. Today, 8 year old Cami enjoys helping in the kitchen and one of her many long-standing career plans (besides being a fashion designer and jockey) is to own and operate her own restaurant. Cami’s highest praise for a meal is, “Mama, you HAVE to give me this recipe for my restaurant!”

As a home educating family, cooking has been a great jumping-off point for many of our lessons. We’ve explored family history by preparing traditional dishes from our ancestors’ countries. Earlier this year, we taught ourselves how to can applesauce. We covered the “science” of canning, the “math” of measurements, the “history” of life before refrigeration, the “geography” of where our apples were grown, and “art” to decorate our jars. And there was lots of reading involved!

A couple of years ago (while watching Food Network!), Cami learned about BabyCakes in New York City. As both of Cami’s younger siblings suffer from severe dairy allergies, she BEGGED me to go online and see if there were any dairy-free bakeries in the Chicago area. After a bit of googling, we found The Bleeding Heart Bakery – local.sustainable.punk-rock pastry. While it’s a bit of a drive, we started making the trip to their shop in Oak Park for their vegan cupcakes and other baked goods.

This year, BHB opened a new location in West Town. Their new café’s initial offerings were “all brunch, all the time.” While it’s a longer drive from our home, we decided to go for breakfast to belatedly celebrate my birthday. (Daddy had to work, but we promised to bring him home a cupcake!) We woke up, brushed our teeth and went in our pajamas!

It was a great outing! We had pink princess hibiscus pancakes with edible glitter, dairy-free waffles, and biscuits & vegan gravy.

We even picked out some baked goods to take home. As we were getting ready to leave, Michelle Garcia walked in! I recognized her from the BHB website and Food Network shows, so I pointed her out to the Littles. Well, Cami wouldn’t leave until she had to chance to talk to Michelle.

Cami asked Michelle for her autograph and told her that someday she wanted to be a chef and have a bakery and restaurant. Michelle graciously invited Cami to come in and spend a morning with her to learn about baking and running a restaurant.

Shortly thereafter, Cami decided to dress as Michelle Garcia for Halloween. (Yes, we pored over pics on the ‘net trying to copy Michelle’s unique style. I was beginning to feel a bit like a stalker!) Of course, this led to another trip to the café on October 31st for breakfast. Michelle was kind enough to arrange her schedule so she’d be at that location on that morning.

We had to postpone Cami’s visit a few times due to sickness and travel. But Michelle and I emailed back-and-forth. And Cami kept herself busy designing cupcakes in her sketchpad and dreaming up new flavor combinations to share with Michelle. Last week, Cami FINALLY got to have her day at the bakery!

When we arrived, Michelle led Cami to the glass-
enclosed cake building studio at the front of the restaurant. They had a small pumpkin cake ready for Cami to decorate.

They chose colors and mixed frosting. Michelle gave Cami some basic instructions on a few tools and techniques and set her loose!

When she finished the first cake, they brought out a dozen chocolate vegan cupcakes, a small vegan cake and a large “practice cake” for Cami to decorate.

Michelle had a cake competition that evening and had to do some prep work. She asked Cami if she’d like to watch, but Cami was pretty happy decorating. So Michelle’s staff of cake decorators -- Sam, Megan and Sally -- helped Cami finish her cupcakes and cakes with Disco Dust (aka edible glitter) and fondant decorations. Each of these young women spoke about their training and interests that led to their work at The Bleeding Heart Bakery.

Afterwards, we joined Michelle in the back kitchen to watch her prepare for the Holiday Rock & Roll cake competition. This benefit for Share Our Strength challenged Chicago’s top pastry chefs to put their own spin on the classic French holiday dessert, the Bûche de Noël -- more commonly known as the Yule Log.

As she worked, Michelle explained so much – the flavors and textures in her competition piece; the ingredients, kitchen equipment, recipes, and techniques going on all around us. She shared her career path and the challenges she faced as a young mother starting a new business. We watched as she directed her staff, juggled scheduling, and completed dozens of other tasks – all while working on her cake AND talking with us!

completed competition cake photo by Sky Full of Bacon

In total, Cami and I spent over four hours at the bakery. It was a wonderful once-in-a-lifetime experience. Until Michelle invited Cami to come back in a couple of months to visit their new test kitchen facility!

Over these past few months, I can only imagine that Michelle might have found Cami’s fan-girl hero-worship a bit overwhelming. But Michelle has assured me that she recognizes the important function that a role model can serve for a child. She’s honored and happy to fill this position in Cami’s life at this time and takes her responsibility very seriously.

So a bit of advice to my fellow home educators: Expose your kids to interesting people. Seek out those entrepreneurs who are changing their industry. If your child has a particular interest, find someone in that field to fan their curiosity. While Cami may not be the next great chef, she’ll always remember Michelle’s generosity.

Monday, November 28, 2011

On Talking To Kids About Diversity

Arie Brentnall-Compton

I'm a dyed in the wool unschooler, so I rarely buy homeschool-curriculum-type books for my kids. A while ago, I picked up a geography reference that looked fun. To my utter horror, while flipping through it yesterday, I found the following sentence: "Race is a distinction based upon biological characteristics common to a population. The eight main races are...". ARGH!!! The whole book's getting trashed because if it can't get the fact that "race" doesn't exist, I don't trust anything else in it either.

I posted the above rant on Facebook & a great discussion followed. One of the comments I made was that we have a widely multi cultural/national/religious family, so we live diversity. It's never been an issue for us to talk about differences in language, country of origin, skin tone, hair type, cultural practices, etc because our kids are constantly around many close family & friends who are open to the discussions & questions that arise. As an adult, I now realise that my very liberal upbringing, where cultural diversity was a constant & we were encouraged to speak up against bigotry, wasn't that common. The Facebook discussion morphed into one of how to discuss these issues with kids. How to discuss the obvious differences that kids often notice, like skin tone or accent, without using "race" as a default descriptor? How to inform & be open without becoming uncomfortable with the discussion?

I've been thinking about the discussion all day, then driving in the truck with my kids, a song came on the iPod: Beds Are Burning

My 9 year old yelled "AC/DC"!!! I told him not quite, this is by Midnight Oil, & explained that they're an Australian band too so the accent sounds pretty similar. We turned the song up & listened. When it was over, I asked him what he thought it was about. He gave me his ideas & said it sounded a bit angry & a bit scary. I agreed & explained that the Aborigines in Australia had the same things happen to them that happened to First Nations people in Canada. The song is a political one, challenging Australians to give land back to the Pintupi. He's really sympathetic to First Nations causes, since it's one we talk about a lot as it's close to my heart. He told me he thought it was great to make music about important messages sound really cool, so more people would hear the message.


This got me thinking about how often songs have led to chances to talk & learn like this with my kids. K'Naan's Wavin' Flag: Somalia & what took place there in the 90's, what it must be like for kids in war zones. U2's Sunday Bloody Sunday Religious bigotry & violence in Ireland. Tanya Tagaq Preservation of Inuit culture. There are thousands of songs that can be springboards to discussing culture, language, ethnicity, religion & all things in between. If there's a song we hear that they ask about, I'll often show the kids a youtube video of the artist performing it. When I first showed my oldest the K'Naan video (he was about 8 at the time) he told me it was cool that K'Naan looked like him. "Hey, he's really tall & thin like me! His skin is darker than me though, & he's got really curly hair, but mine's blond & straight." Kids do notice the differences between people, but they notice the similarities too. We don't need to place inaccurate racial labels on people when we can simply describe who they are, where they're from, what they've accomplished.

If this is something that matters to you & if you don't know where to start...try your playlist!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Renaissance Cures

We are almost finished studying the Middle Ages using Story of the World, a history curriculum our whole family is enjoying. History is told in a narrative format, and the Activity Book includes map work and fun activities that even the little kids love. We try to do at least one of the activities for each chapter. History is probably the most fun subject at our house!

Today the kids were being a bit wild, so I decided it would be a great idea to distract them by talking about medical practices during the Middle Ages. Our activity book included recipes for a few cures that made the kids think about the effectiveness of the cures physicians used to try to cure Edward VI when he became ill.

We started with a cherry bark boil to relieve coughs:

The boys swallowed spiders to "rejuvenate the body":
We made a salve with egg yolk, vinegar, and flower petals from our yard:
And it was liberally applied to booboos:
Our cow manure poultice to draw out poison from inflamed limbs was blue. (We have a special cow.)
And we brewed lettuce tea to help us sleep:

The baby has finally reached the glorious age where I can provide him with a tray of finger food to keep him happy while I throw up a blog post! Yay!
Off to nap time now! Let's hope that lettuce tea works!

Friday, September 23, 2011

What to virtual schoolers do when the internet breaks?

Well, first we run around in circles in a complete panic because we can't remember where people gained knowledge before google.

Then mama remembers that time before the internet existed.
You know, when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

She feels all nostalgic and pulls out BOOKS.

Of course, some of us can't remember that time, so they start an art project making themselves a laptop.

The rest of us get out our books and start our assignments. We don't need no stinking interhighway!

Well, one of us does.
He was much happier with his laptop.

I joke, but really, what does a virtual school family do when their internet service goes out AGAIN?
Well, first they get a new provider (and we did, hooray!).

Then they get out the books and teach the old fashioned way.
It was a lot of fun to go through our books, talk about things we read and remember that the internet is a great tool for teaching, but it isn't the ONLY tool.

How do you teach without the internet?
Posted by Picasa

Monday, September 12, 2011

Following a Science Curriculum

Science is always happening at our house. The boys always have new interests and we explore each one until they are ready to move on. I decided though, when Atticus started his "first grade" studies, to follow the four year science rotation suggested in The Well-Trained year each of Life Science, Earth/Space Science, Chemistry, and Physics repeated three times through the schooling cycle. I searched for a curriculum that was a) secular; b) organized; c) experiment heavy; and d) open and go. I found R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey, and we have been very happy with this choice! With each lesson we Read, Explore, Absorb, and Learn about science. We generally do two labs a week and explore the topics in further detail through library books or museum visits.

We started first grade with Life. We are about to finish up Earth & Space in a few weeks and then we'll move on to Chemistry. You are allowed to reproduce as many copies as you want for your family's use, and with my fun Pro-Click binding tool, I can create a book for each kiddo full of their labs.

I love the organization of the books.

The author provides a summary of what your child should take away from each topic.

A list of supplies for each topic.

Suggested readings for each topic. (Note: Sometimes I am unable to get the suggested titles from the library, however it is a great starting point for my searches.)

And website suggestions as well.

The lab sheets are easy to read and child-friendly.

They require very little in the way of artistic endeavors, which is important to my 8 year old. And you can make keepsake books highlighting important facts to chronicle your learning.

You utilize many household products.

As well as things you can find outside.

Lots of food.

And you get to measure.

You look at rocks using magnifying glasses.

And use dangerous tools.

Observe things as they sit around and grow.

Play and experiment with live animals.

Get "tested" using stuffed animals.

And involve all of the kids.

What do you do for science? Please share!