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Last week, my oldest daughter turned eight.  We had a small celebration at home.  We’ll have a party for some friends after the baby comes and we all get settled again.  For our family celebration, we baked a birthday cake to have after dinner.

Baking in a small, galley-style kitchen can be a challenge when you’re 8 and a half months pregnant, and roughly the size of a river barge.  Add four children who want to help to the mix, and you have a situation brewing that’s likely to make you lose your mind!

These experiences, helping Mom or Dad in the kitchen are so important for young children.  They need to learn how to help…and actually be helpful!  They need to learn how to clean up once the job is done.  They need to learn how to read a recipe…and it’s a great way to teach fractions, too!  So, how can you, as a parent, help them to learn all these things while not losing your mind?  You want it to be an enjoyable experience for you all!  You want your children to look back with fond memories of baking in the kitchen with you.

 

I have to admit, before my kids started getting old enough to help, I had very unrealistic expectations of how these cooperative cooking experiences would proceed.  We would have pretty, matching mother and child aprons.  I would look like June Cleaver, with high heels and perfect hair pulling cookies out of the oven with a giant smile on my face (as if anyone can really smile while wearing high heels!).  We would carefully measure, and stir, taking turns nicely while nary a drop was ever spilled.  There would be no flour explosions in our perfect kitchen!  Never an egg shell dropped in the wrong spot!

Oh, how foolish the expectations of a young mother can sometimes be!!!

Well, I’m certainly no June Cleaver, and cooking with even one child is a mess.  Cooking with four is nothing short of a natural disaster of the proportion that deserves its own name!  But, if I let it, cooking together can also be a hugely rewarding experience…both for me, and for the children.

Bear is old enough now that she is actually quite a help.  She knows how to read a recipe, how to measure ingredients, and how to make sure she gets those ingredients (completely) into the mixing bowl.  Lizard is learning, but still needs a lot of help.  On Sunday, she was helping her Daddy make hamburger patties, and managed to squirt raw meat juice all over both their faces!  But, hey…at least she’s excited to get her hands in there and get things done.  Monkey tries-but he still needs very careful oversight!  Rhino…well…he can’t really be trusted not to eat all the flour!

 

If I had never let Bear into the kitchen in the first place, she wouldn’t ever have learned as much as she has so far.  If I don’t let Lizard try to measure and pour by herself, she’ll never figure out how to do it without spilling.  Now, does that mean I don’t offer correction when she makes a mistake?  Absolutely not!  I try to patiently show her a better way, then, let her try it for herself (hopefully without the raw meat juice!).

Patience is not a virtue I possess naturally.  It is something I have to constantly practice and work on.  Sometimes, I have to just stop, take a deep breath, and remind myself that they goal isn’t a perfect cake.  The goal is teaching my children enjoyment of an important life skill: cooking.  When I can keep that goal in mind, it’s much easier to make cooking with my children a fun, relaxed experience…and that’s better for us all!

Here is the finished product for Bear’s birthday cake.  She frosted and decorated it herself, too.  It’s a dinosaur in a field of flowers, in case you’re wondering.  She has never been so proud of a cake!  I’m so proud of her.  She’s growing up so fast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Back when Andrew and I first got married, I was working for a diagnostic lab in the veterinary school at the university in our town.  Not too long after we found out Bear was on the way, I was promoted to Laboratory Supervisor.  I was responsible for making sure the lab ran smoothly, and making sure our results were dependable.  Part of that job included making sure all of our machines were functioning properly, and that any new machines or equipment was set up and running as quickly as possible.

I wasn’t bad at my job.  I checked through all of our results daily, and made sure all the routine maintenance was done on all of our instruments.  All of our chemicals were in stock and up to date.  Everything was going fairly smoothly, until one fateful day.

The medical director for our lab was excited.  We were finally getting our own blood chemistry analyzer.  We would finally be able to run our own chemistry panels for our lab’s research section rather than having to pay another lab to run them for us.  He was confident we would save hundreds each month.  On paper, he was right.  The tests would cost mere pennies each with our own machine.  He overlooked one important fact.

In his attempt to save money (it was 2008…the economy was a wreck), he had ordered a dinosaur!

The Hitachi 911 was a top of the line chemistry analyzer…in 1993.  However, when it found its way to our lab in 2008, it was due for donation to a museum.  In fact, the company that originally manufactured it informed me, when I called them for a copy of the service manual, that the Hitachi 911 would be “sunsetted” in 2009.  That meant there would no longer be service parts or support available for this machine.  Despite this new knowledge, our esteemed medical director wished to continue with the installation of this prehistoric  beast.  We would simply get our reagents and any parts we might need from a third party supplier.  We scheduled a week for the used equipment dealers from which the machine was purchased to come down from Minnesota to complete the installation and training for this treasured “new” tool.

The Hitachi 911 came, packed in a huge shipping crate, a couple of weeks before our appointment.  So, it sat in the lab hallway.  One day, my husband walked over to eat lunch with me.  He saw the big crate in the middle of the hallway, and immediately had a plan for all that wood.  Of course, my boss was only too happy to have someone else dispose of the giant crate.  Our lab was in the basement of the veterinary college, and the hallways were small.  The crate almost completely blocked up the hallway where it was sitting, forcing everyone to take the long way from lab room to lab room.  My boss was anxious to get rid of it!

The big installation and training day came.  The instrument was unpacked and installed.  That afternoon, our training began.  This machine had to boot from a floppy disk.  Do you remember those?  There was no operating system.  I found myself transported back to my early childhood, watching my dad program his big machines to make all sorts of metal doohickeys.

It was fairly late in the evening when we finished for the day.  I called Andrew to come pick up that shipping crate.  It was dark, and we were in the midst of a rare central Texas snowstorm (and the fact that we were calling it a snowstorm amused our guests from Minnesota greatly).  Andrew got the crate loaded up in my truck, and we started home.  When we got there, he stacked it all up in the garage.

Soon after our training, it was time for Bear to come, and I had to go on maternity leave.  I was gone for 2 months.  When I returned, I found that nothing had been done with the much-anticipated Hitachi 911 while I was gone.  It had sat idle for 2 months.  So, I started to work on getting it up and running and validated for diagnostic use.

As I started running it continuously, one part after another started breaking.  We would order a new part from our third party supplier, and I would use the service manual to try to replace it.

Week after week brought setback after setback.  Our medical director became impatient.  I was working long hours, and all I really wanted to do was be at home with my new baby.  I sure didn’t want to spend my days in a futile war with an ancient piece of laboratory equipment!  However, while I was working late, locked in this hopeless battle, my husband was going home on time.  He used his free time at home before I got there each evening carefully crafting something new and exciting from all of that wood he had gleaned from the shipping crate in which my arch-nemesis had arrived.  The work was slow and tedious.  He wanted to make sure that the final product would last for years to come.

Four months later, I put in my resignation.  I was fed up with that machine.  I din’t want to be there, and my husband and I were fairly certain that we could make it work on just one income, if we were very very frugal.

My husband made a huge dining room table out of the shipping crate that the Hitachi 911 had come out of just a few months earlier.  When he finished putting it together, it barely fit in our dining room in that little house we had it town.  It was so big that we couldn’t even reach each other to pass food back and forth.  It seemed a little ridiculous back then, for us to have such a large table where there were only the three of us for dinner regularly (and one of us was a little baby!).  But our family would grow!

Today, in our farmhouse, the table fits a little better, though it’s still pretty big.  But now, that table is full at dinnertime.  There are six of us to sit around it now.  In fact, my husband will have to build bench seating in the near future so that the soon to be seven of us will be able to fit!  It has served us well for nearly 9 years now.

My husband and I still claim that our dining room table is the ONLY good thing that ever came out of that shipping crate!

Think Tank Thursday

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