I love this time of year for many reasons, but one of my absolute favorites is baking day. I really enjoy cooking and baking and use my time in my kitchen to process my thoughts and sometimes fill the time when I can’t sleep. Baking day is the one day a year where my family clears the house for an entire day, and all I do is bake for about twelve straight hours while I watch holiday movies or old 80’s movies in the background. I always appreciate my time with my family and involve my kids in baking and cooking whenever I can, but this is one day I take entirely for me. My family, my neighbors, and my colleagues also enjoy baking day as they are the recipients of all the treats. Each year I make some tried and true recipes that are staples, and then I try some new ones to add to the displays for our holiday meals and gifts to neighbors and friends. When I am stressed out at this ridiculously busy time of year, I look for recipes on the internet or in one of my many cookbooks and focus on the joy others may feel depending on the choice and the outcome of the recipe.
Baking day needed to look different this year as we are moving to a new home. I struggled at first to make it the same experience. When I thought a lot about why the day is so important to me, I actually thought about what we want for learners in our schools. Putting together the display of all these baked goods is like a great Design Thinking experience. The book Launch by AJ Juliani and John Spencer is one of my go-to resources for helping teachers learn about Design Thinking. In this post, John Spencer explains the core steps to the Design Thinking framework they share in Launch. The first one is to Look, Listen, and Learn, which is precisely what I do when I am getting ready for my big day. I remember which treats each member of my family likes best and go to the second step to Ask Questions about what new recipes I should try. I know my brother loves Oreo truffles, my sister-in-law loves butterscotch cheesecake bars, and that everyone enjoys the lemon sandwich cookies, but who knew my nephew would absolutely love coconut macaroons. Once I learned that about him, those became a regular on the holiday baking list.
The next steps in the Design Thinking framework are to Understand the Process or Problem and Navigate Ideas. This is where I got stuck this year. My process for solving the problem of getting multiple batches of ten different desserts ready to go needed to look different, and it threw me off quite a bit at first. Once I started to navigate ideas on how to solve the problem in a way that made the experience equally enjoyable and meaningful for me, it was not that hard to find a solution. I ended up having to break the day into a couple of half days and evenings and get others more involved. A big challenge for me was finding enough time, which is continuously our challenge in education. I needed to stop trying to find more time and instead use the time I had in a new way that still allowed for the same outcome. Navigating ideas on how to set things up in a new kitchen to make sure I could be efficient with the time I had and still be relaxed to not feel under a time crunch was a challenge, but one that I was able to overcome with the help of getting ideas from others. I also had to let go of some things I would normally do that just did not get done this year, which was okay as it allowed me not to feel stressed by something I usually enjoy so much.
Being okay with things not being perfect, having to go back to a creative process many times, reaching out to others for support, and eventually working it all through to create something beautiful is what I hope our learners are experiencing every day. Nothing is ever going to be perfect. If that is what we are trying to do all the time, we will for sure be disappointed. What I love most about baking at the holidays is that I make the time to be creative and try new things which may not always work, but sometimes do. I don’t worry about it all being perfect and I get to learn a lot about a new ingredient or baking process through trial and error. I can also tell when I am distracted or other stressors are coming into my brain as recipes that I have made many times don’t work right or taste off. This is true of our learners as well. When they are experiencing tough times in and out of school, things they may have always been able to do well may not go as planned. We need to help them recognize that it is okay and that they should take the opportunity to try again just like I do when I throw out a batch of something and start over.
New recipes often don’t turn out right the first few times or are just not good. Continuing to try them gives me the opportunity to practice the next two steps in the framework- Create a Prototype and Highlight and Fix. I appreciate the iteration that baking frequently takes. I may need to try a recipe multiple times, adding a little of this and removing a bit of that until I get it just right. The process of documenting what went well and how to adjust helps achieve a product I am proud to share with others. Some recipes are also just not tasty, even when I get them right. I have to accept abandoning an idea that doesn’t work and moving on to the next one.
Launching to an audience, the last step in the framework, is the most impactful part. I look forward to the end of our Christmas Eve meal so I can bring out the tray of desserts that I have worked so hard to produce. People will tell me how much they are looking forward to tasting their favorite recipes and then give me feedback on any new ones. This was my tenth year of launching my work on Christmas Eve, and it was fascinating to see which desserts come back from year to year as I get good feedback on them and which ones drop off or I make for different audiences as they may appeal to others more. The process of preparation and research, being creative, iteration, and then the launching means something as it helps me to get better each time I do it. I bake all the time throughout the year, but this is a time of year when I do it more and with a real purpose to connect to one another and make memories that carry me forward to doing it all over again on such a grand scale the next year.
If we think about our most successful moments, they are when the experience is personal to us and our strengths, has an impact on others, and allows us to use a creative process to work through multiple iterations of what we are trying to achieve to get it just right. Baking day, even this year when it needed to look different, does that for me. While it doesn’t solve any major problems in our world, it makes lots of people including me really happy, which is never a bad thing.