The Importance of Teaching History

We are full into Black History Month. For four weeks, kids all across the country are reading about, talking about, writing about our country’s black ancestral history. Stories of contemporary bright lights such as Beyonce, Te-Nehisi Coates, and Barack Obama give way to stories of Ella Fitzgerald, Frederick Douglass, and Romare Bearden — men and women who lived and died before music videos and twitter. Why, then, is teaching black history important? Why teach history at all?

The other day, I went to a new doctor. Before being ushered into the examining room, I was asked to fill out a questionnaire. Name, age, height, weight. There was a checklist of chronic illnesses: cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure. One column asked me to check off any of these illnesses that I have personally experienced. A second column asked for my family history – did my parents, siblings, or grandparents suffer any of these illnesses.

By the time I was introduced to the doctor, she had read my questionnaire and already knew a lot about me. My history gave her valuable information that would be useful in dealing with my current state of being.

A couple of years ago, I saw a funny Saturday Night Live skit — a parody of Steve Jobs unveiling the latest IPod: The IPod Micro, the size of a razor blade with a storage capacity of 50,000 songs. Before Jobs finishes his pitch, he interrupts himself. The IPod Micro has been updated to the IPod Pequena, which holds a million songs. Before Jobs finishes this pitch, he interrupts himself again. The latest Ipod, the Invisa is just that – Invisible! And holds 8 million songs. Silly… but rings the truth – human beings are constantly building on our knowledge of current technology to take it a step further.

In the same way that our medical history is valuable to doctors and technological history is valuable to programmers , our country’s history is valuable to all of us. Yesterday, I saw the documentary “I Am Not Your Negro.” I recommend that all Americans get to the theaters and see it. At one point James Baldwin is asked why history is important. He says, quite simply, “We are our history.”

We are our history but we don’t have to repeat our historical mistakes. Our history provides telling information that helps us think about and respond effectively to the issues of today. Avoid the pitfalls. Build on our successes. Study. Our world depends on it.

Share your favorite stories from history.

Making the Super Bowl Super Fun for Kids

When I think of Super Bowl parties, I have to admit I get images of beer guzzling and colorful language. Which can be lots of fun. But what if you’re including kids at the party?

Here are some kid-friendly ideas to go alongside the adult partying:

GAMES. Kids get pretty bored with watching men – even helmeted men — running back and forth on TV for hours. They need games of their own that they can actually participate in. One way to address this is simply to have games that have nothing to do with the happenings on your TV screen. Another idea is to give kids a way to interact with the game itself. Play Super Bowl bingo. Bingo cards can include players, coaches, sportscasters, team apparel… anything you want! Each time a kid spots something from her Bingo card, she can fill in a square, until someone gets BINGO! Another game is a spinoff from one we used to play in the car. We used to look at signs along the road, trying to spy the letters of the alphabet in order. With so much action on your TV set, your kids will have lots of opportunities to catch letters popping up on the screen.

FOOD. No beers, of course, Chips are fine. But what about food that kids enjoy making. Homemade pizzas allow kids to choose their ingredients and watch their own individual pie being made. Fruit sticks. Put out a bunch of fruits and a pile of toothpicks. Let the kids build their own combinations and then pop them in their mouths. And, of course, the tried and true cookie-decorating activity. Choose sugar sprinkles in team colors. Allow kids to choose add-ins from an array of chocolate chips, coconut, peanuts, cinnamon-sugar sprinkles or your own special concoction.

Enjoy the party!

Stand and Protect

I’m a parent, so I know. There is a deep-seated desire in each of us to protect our kids from all the scary things that await them out in the world.

We Want to Protect our Children

We want to protect them from bullies and mean girls. We want to protect them from failing exams and losing soccer games. And then there are the bigger things.

I will never forget the feeling I had the morning of September 11, 2001, knowing my children were innocently at work in their elementary school classrooms while the World Trade Center towers were crashing down. My thoughts: What would their teachers say to them? What would I say to them? How could we protect them?

Today’s parents and children face the same kind of harrowing moments. Bomb explosions, shootings. Emotionally bruising taunts based on race, religion, sexuality. How do we protect our children?

The Question is How?

To start, we must face the fact that children are aware of what’s going on around them. We cannot protect them by acting as though it doesn’t exist. Instead we must empower them, make them feel that they can do something about it.

Empower Them to Act

Last week I went to the Women’s March in NY. There were groups of young adults. There were oldies like me. And there were families, parents with children sitting high on their shoulders. Some wore pink knit caps. Some held up signs. I later saw a photo of a very young boy, too young to write, who had scrawled squiggly lines across his own homemade sign. These children were actively engaged. Feeling that they could make a difference.

There are so many ways for kids to take action. Sign a petition. Volunteer at a local food pantry or other social justice group. Research and present a report on an issue that is challenging them. Our job as parents? Help them face the world head on. Draw them into a conversation exploring what they can do to shape answers.

When we arm our kids with the tools to combat their problems – large and small – we make them feel they are not helpless. We protect them.

Share your stories of empowering children!

The Joy of Book Browsing

This weekend, a deep freeze has descended upon Chicago and much of the rest of the country. If you’re like me, you enjoy the warmth of the fireplace and hot chocolate or tea and a soft wool blanket wrapped around your legs. But if you’re like me, you also need to get out. After hours sitting still in the warmth of the indoors, getting outside is invigorating. The crisp dry cold air as it hits your lungs, a little tingle in the nostrils – it gives me a rush of energy, brings back the old vim and vigor.

A Perfect Winter Outing

Yesterday‘s outing was a brisk walk to the local bookstore. In my pocket, I carried the Christmas gift card bestowed upon me by my college-aged nephew. Here’s the great thing about this gift – it is really two gifts in one: the gift of reading, to be sure; but also the gift of book browsing, which is its own joyful adventure.

The Joy of Just Looking

When my children were young, we had a regular weekly outing to the bookstore. As we walked through the door to the shop, a feast of lively book covers invited us in. Drawing closer, we scanned the book titles, then opened the book jackets, tantalized by summaries of stories to be unspooled on the pages that followed. There were stories of princesses and wizards, school and home, times of adventure and others of quiet.

As a grownup, I still feel that same rush of book-browsing pleasure. Histories and chick-lit, page-turning mysteries and laugh-out-loud comedies. On my outing yesterday, I looked at a novel take on the underground railroad, a story of life as seen by a spunky millennial, and Bruce Springsteen’s look back at how he got to be him. I ended up choosing a couple of nonfiction looks at the world we live in, one a classic, the other contemporary.

Tomorrow, the reading will begin. But yesterday, the browsing was the bomb-diggity.

Share your favorite book titles!

New Year’s Resolutions: Hope Springs Eternal

The night before New Year’s Eve was no ordinary Friday night. Yes, I stepped out for a night on the town, and ate and drank accordingly. But unlike most Friday nights, this December 30 was the culmination of a 30+day food fest. Sugar cookies, pumpkin pies, candy and more candy. Home cooked turkey, mac and cheese, marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes. And then there was restaurant food – tacos and BBQ, tea cakes and 4-egg omelets.

When I left the restaurant last Friday, I decided that was it. NO MORE! I resolved, “I will never do this again!”

The next morning, I made my way to the grocery store and filled my cart with veggies – collard greens and spinach, leeks and mushrooms, carrots, onions, chard and…pretty much the entire produce section.

For the next two days (with a quiet glass-of-champagne countdown mixed in) I whirled around the kitchen – chopping, browning, tying up packets of herbs, chopping some more, stirring, simmering, pureeing, cooling, then filling every storage container I could get my hands on. Four savory soups, a pot of greens, mounds of homemade pesto. And then I smiled. Bring on 2017.

My opening New Year’s resolution is in the bag (well… the fridge).

Who Makes Resolutions?

Most of us make resolutions. The young and the old. Those who had a lousy year and want a change of scene. Also those who had a good year and want to challenge themselves to the next level.

So Is There a Point to Making Resolutions at All?

I think so. And here’s why:

  • Structure. Our lives are full of actions, big and small. It’s kinda like the Internet. If we start surfing without knowing (at least generally) what we’re looking for, we can spend hours drowning in all the info that’s out there –I call it getting Internet drunk – and we don’t remember a thing we’ve read when we finally shut down. Resolutions remind us what we’re looking for.
  • Hope. Springs eternal. And a new year gives us a do-over, a chance to get it right. Never mind the extra chocolate brownie we couldn’t leave on the buffet table at that last party. This will be the year! So we say January 1. And just to think it feels good, is inspiring. We may succumb to temptations again in the future. But we might be content with moderation. And without hope, we don’t even try.
  • Accomplishment…or at least Progress. Maybe by December 31, I will have developed a habit of making ONE Sunday soup each week. Undoubtedly, there will still be chocolates in my future. The point is, just a small change that catches on is better than nothing. To get there takes self-discipline. But when you do get there, it is an accomplishment. Which might get lost in the shuffle without an intentional resolution to begin with.

So, here’s to a clean slate and renewed resolve. Happy New Year!

Share your favorite New Year’s resolutions!

Baking with Kids: Food for Mind, Body, and Soul

I am starting to catch the holiday spirit this weekend. Yesterday, my youngest daughter – now all of 22 years old – joined me and my boyfriend in picking out and decorating a perfectly shaped Christmas tree. After getting the tree in the stand, my daughter took up residence in the kitchen and whipped up some gorgeous, delicious holiday cookies. She is good enough to be a pastry chef. And I am blessed to be the beneficiary of her out-of-this-world desserts. In her honor, I share with you the family legend of the “blue” cookies.

You Ask: What are Blue Cookies?!!!

When my daughter was three, she had already spent two years watching me bake. Now she decided to step up to the plate (well…the kitchen counter) herself. She had/has a “slight” stubborn streak. Translated: She would suffer absolutely NO advice on ingredients.

She dragged out a big bowl, a big tin of flour, a cup of water, and a stirring spoon. Without any measuring tools, she concocted a flour-water mixture that resembled paste. She cocked her head, looked at her creation for a minute or so, then retrieved a box of food coloring from the cabinet and dyed her dough blue.

We spooned the sticky mess into circles on a tray, deposited the tray into the oven (heated by me) and eyeballed the blue dough until it resembled something like blue cookies. We scraped them off the tray, piled them onto a pretty dessert plate and let them cool.

After dinner – you guessed it – she sashayed into the dining room with “dessert.” And she was a taskmaster. She gave me, her dad, and her sisters the death stare that commanded us to actually eat. Which we accomplished with healthy gulps of water after each bite. The icing on the cookie? She took one nibble of hers, then stone-faced, surreptitiously (she thought) pocketed the rest until she could deposit it in the garbage.

Undaunted, for months thereafter, she made blue cookies. She experimented a little by adding sugar, then cinnamon. Still…blahhh. Finally, she was ready to listen to my tips on the role of baking powder; and on the importance of correct ingredient proportions. She learned to use measuring cups and we studied actual recipes. And after a few attempts, she made something edible.

Which we all rejoiced over.

The Joy of Baking

After that, the blue cookies disappeared form the repertoire. Replaced by chocolate chip and oatmeal; then cookies with sprinkles and frosting; then ginger molasses and Mexican wedding cookies. Then her own creations – yes, she came full circle – which are, I am grateful to report, heavenly!

Aside from an ever more delicious eating experience, what did she gain? What can your child gain from baking?

Food for the Mind

So here’s the great thing for all you right brain types (like me). Math can be fun. So can chemistry. What more creative way to teach measurement, fractions, the metric system? What about the chemical properties of baking powder? (Yes… I am now obsessed with this.) The beauty of baking is it’s a very concrete way to teach. And that means it is very likely to stick.

Food for the Body

Kids are curious. So as you are measuring out that flour, that ginger, those chocolate chips, you have the opportunity to talk about….where these ingredients come from; and the concept of vitamins that our bodies get from food. You can talk about eating in moderation and about balance among the food groups. And it’s all fun! Plus, when you say “one cookie is enough” it will actually make sense and not seem like a heartless random punishment.

Food for the Soul

I think this requires little explanation. Heart-warming times with your children you and they will remember forever (blue cookies are case in point). I heartily endorse the aphorisms “Food is the way to the heart” and “Sweets for my sweet.”

Happy baking!

Share your baking stories.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

It’s snowing! First snow in Chicago 2016-17! I know in a couple of months I will be grinding my teeth as hardened clumps covered with dirt sit in the streets. But today it feels like living inside a snow globe.

First Snow Magic

The first snow always feels like something breathtakingly unexpected. And that’s funny, because of course know it’s coming and you’ve seen it many times before. But when that first snow gets here, its always so much better than you thought it was going to be.

Every year I take pictures of the trees outside my window. I pop outside, feel the cool wetness on my face and nab a few passing drops on my tongue. As the flakes cover my eyelids, my cheeks, my hair, I feel my troubles being washed away.

When I was a kid, I would look out the window at the first falling snowdrops. As soon as there was a light coating in the yard, I would bound out of doors, throw myself into the snow, and whip my arms and legs vigorously up and down to form a snow angel.

When I was a teenager, I would gather with a group of friends on a large open field. We would scoop up snow and shape it loosely into snowballs, then hurl it at one another. I remember lots of slipping and sliding and dodging to get away from snowball-armed assailants.

Sometimes, our snowball brigade included a special boy I hoped would catch me. There is a Korean saying that if you are out in the first snow of the year with someone you like, then true love will blossom between you. I remember the giddy feeling of chaos as bodies bounded and rebounded off one another. Sometimes that special someone would charge, wrap his arms around my waist and we would fall into the soft snow.

First Snow Freedom

There is something freeing about that first snow. Whether it is washing away troubles or breaking through restrictions society places on us or we place on ourselves, it is a moment of opportunity to let go and let the miracle of nature work its magic.

Share your stories of snow.

Thanks and Giving

Thanksgiving week has arrived. Last year, this time, I wrote about my experiences with teaching my young kids to be thankful in a materialistic world. (See archives, November 22, 2015) This year, my now young adult children are showing me the life-sustaining fruits of teaching thankfulness to children.

Many people are experiencing life-altering threats since the election two weeks ago. Some are verbal threats. A teacher friend reported on a middle school student who was told she was going to be sent back where she came from (never mind that she were born right here in the United States). Others have been physically attacked for wearing a veil or for the color of their skin. Many, many more face the uncertainty of whether they will be able to continue living in this country.

Teaching Thanks Through Giving

In last year’s blog, I suggested the idea of combatting materialistic entitlement by creating activities for your children that involve giving – making presents and delivering them to orphanages or shelters, making homemade holiday greeting cards or baking cookies for family and friends.

This year, my children are choosing, without any prompting from me, their own ways of giving. One daughter is signing up to volunteer at an immigration organization; another is using her skills as a lawyer to help those in need of free (otherwise known as pro bono) legal assistance; my third daughter is planning to join a march to protect women’s rights.

This week, communities of families and friends across the country will break bread together. It is an opportunity to voice thanks for what we have and to share ways of giving to others who are in need. Let’s make the most of it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Share your stories of thanks and giving.

Halloween: Facing Your Demons

Back in the day, when I was just starting out on my own, one of my favorite music videos was Michael Jackson’s Thriller (if you haven’t seen it, you’ve got to check it out. Really.). I was not alone. Over 9 million people were transfixed by Michael morphing into a werewolf in the light of the full moon, then teasing the viewer – is he really a terrifying ghoul or is it all imaginary fun?

Halloween: The Yin and Yang

In my neighborhood, there was one block – the “it” place to be on Halloween. The homeowners worked for months to prepare their yards, their rooftops, their porches. Everyone just knew it was the scariest street in the USA. As the sun went down and we were enveloped in inky darkness, everyone – I mean everyone – trekked over to Harper Avenue. The street was crowded with princesses and superheroes and – on the other end of the spectrum – mummies and vampires. Black cats and witches crouched on lawns in the shadows of flickering pumpkins. At some houses (and you never know which ones until you get there) fiendish laughter startled the young ones or they got caught in sticky cobwebs as they started up the steps for a trick or treat. Some screeched with giddy excitement. Some screeched with fear.

That sums up Halloween for me. On the one hand, it is an opportunity to act out your most cherished fantasies. One of my daughters who has an insatiable sweet tooth once chose to dress up as a bag of M&Ms. On the other hand, it is a day when you come face to face (figuratively) with your demons.

Facing Your Demons

We are all scared of something. For grownups, it might be the specter of losing a job or a spouse, or even just the vulnerability of not being able to be there to protect our kids every moment of the day and night. For teenagers it might be anxiety about a test or getting into college or losing a boyfriend or coming out or staying away from gangs. For toddlers it might be fear of the dark or strangers or, in many cases, Halloween itself.

The question, then, is what can you do about it? As many child development specialists will tell you, there is a general guideline here: teach your children to face their fears, not to bury them. This means, for starters, take their fears seriously; don’t laugh it off if your four-year-old tells you there are tigers prowling outside their second floor bedroom window or if your teenager insists he can’t go out because he has an acne outbreak. Take it seriously. Then, help them to look their fears square in the face and teach them how to take action to overcome them. This can play out in lots of different ways.

If a child is scared of the dark you can provide a nightlight or you can talk about the magical things like fireflies that come out to dance in the dark. You can set a routine of nightly bedtime story: For some, a cheerful favorite overrides feelings of fear; For others, stories about other children working out their fear of the dark are more helpful. I used to tuck my girls in with music or a story on tape. One of their favorites was kind of a hybrid of scary and hilarity – a story about Bunnicula the vampire bunny who sucked juice out of vegetables.

As your children get older, they may fear the uncertainties of life out in the larger world. One thing that I have found to help is giving them a sense that they are not alone. My daughters were very young when September 11 happened. I think it was hard for them to feel the reality of the Towers coming down. But the aftermath was very real: Military planes flying very low over our Chicago house for several days, our family room rattling from the sound of the engines overhead. When a plane would come, the girls would drop to the floor with their hands over their ears. My youngest had nightmares of bombs falling out of the sky. Even now, more than a decade later, these nightmares revisit her sporadically.

One Christmas, I gave her a book, Iraqi Girl (Diary of a Teenage Girl in Iraq). Living in occupied Iraq with bombs falling all around her, the author says, “Do you ever feel that you are imprisoned in a cage and there is no one except you and a big lion in this cage and you can’t get out. You can’t get out and there is nowhere to run. No way to run. That is my feeling.” Toward the end of the book, the author is on her way to college. She says, “”I am on my way to the future and living what could possibly be a happy memory someday.” It gave my daughter perspective. And a window into someone dealing with the same fears on a much larger scale.

I notice, too, as my daughters have moved out into the world away from home, they often paper their rooms with quotes such as “she believed she could so she did” to serve as models of how to face their fears.

Be A Role Model

One last thought. Children are observant. They often take their cues from you. How you face your demons can impact how they face theirs. In the words of our great President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as he prepared to do battle with devastating poverty and unemployment during the Great Depression, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Do you have stories or suggestions about teaching children to face their demons?


The other day I was watching the Cubs playing in a tight game. The opposing team was up to bat with a runner on first. The pitch…the runner took off…the Cubs’ catcher threw down to Javy Baez at second…in a single beautiful motion Baez glided a couple of steps, jumped, plucked the ball out of the air just behind the bag, swooped down, tagged the runner out. A work of art. Also, a superb athletic move. The Cubs won. And won some more. Now they are in the World Series for the first time since 1945.

Ahhhhh…1945. That was the year of the Curse of the Billy Goat which many fans swear has haunted the Cubs for the past 71 years.

Curse of the Billy Goat

On October 6, 1945, the Cubs were playing…yes…in the World Series. Billy Sianis had a beloved pet goat. A decade or so before the 1945 World Series, Billy rescued a goat that had fallen off a passing truck. The goat became his everything. The goat was a regular at the local watering hole Billy owned. Billy called the bar…surprise!…Billy Goat Tavern. Billy also loved the Cubs. And on that day in 1945, he purchased two tickets to the World Series game. One for himself. One for his goat. Some say the gatekeepers refused to allow the goat into the ballpark. Others say the goat was thrown out mid-game because it smelled bad. Whatever the specifics, Billy placed a curse: “The Cubs will never win a World Series again.”

Why do sports fans believe in Curses?

What is it about curses (or superstitions) and sports? My girls were hard core soccer players and their parents were hard core fans. Their father had his “winning” shirt that he wore to every playoff game. That worked…until it didn’t. How many of us have our own secret sauce…turn the cap backward, sit in that special seat in the stands, repeat a magic mantra (ooops…cheer), One survey found that 1 in 5 fans try to work their mojo to influence the score.

Why? Well, first of all fans really care about their sports. So the outcome affects how we feel. Second, there are so many complex factors that go into what that outcome is. Player skill, of course. But also mental strength, physical stamina, momentum, and, yes, luck. And we fans have very little control over any of this. We can cheer, of course. Hence, home field advantage. But despite the statistics and other facts we can look to, there’s always a sizeable element of chance in every game. So we bring our mojo. It gives us a sense of control.

Curses are meant to be broken!

Last year, five gung-ho fans tried to break Billy Sianis’ curse by eating 40 pounds of goat meat in 13 minutes. It didn’t work….or maybe it had a one–year delayed effect. I have a feeling it did.

Go Cubbies!

Share your stories of curses and superstitions!