Dirty hands

The window sill in the sun room is currently a dangerous place to be… if you are a chocolate chip and don’t wish to be melted. Yes, it is sunny outside, and no, the sun isn’t that strong yet, but with a little help from an almost ten year old engineer, the window sill is now the proud home of a rather hot apparatus: an oven.

Yes, you read that right: K built an oven. A solar oven, to be precise.

Solar oven side view

It is a real, functioning, solar oven, complete with a bright yellow caution sign (which gives it an extra special air of danger), and it is really good at melting chocolate chips. B is rather unimpressed by it. Perhaps because it doesn’t blink or hum or look anything at all like a real oven, or perhaps because of its diminutive size… it is hard to say for certain.

K started out quite enthusiastic, and he has remained doggedly interested in seeing if it works. For days, he has left it on the window sill with its little package of chocolate chips, occasionally moving it into better sunlight, or tying the curtains back to ensure unimpeded solar radiation. He has adjusted the reflective panels, changed the angle of the box, and overall spent a lot of time staring at slowly melting chocolate.

Melted chocolate chips

All to no avail, he thought, though he said not a word, until it dawned on this Mama that he may not realize that melted chocolate will keep its shape. Now, reassured that the oven is indeed working, it is time to move on to other things. What else shall we cook? I’m thinking maybe some rice, or an egg in its shell. He’ll probably have more ideas, and in reality, the kid-generated explorations are the best kind, even if they don’t always work out.

Or maybe I should say, especially when they don’t work out. How else do we truly learn things than by trying, failing, and trying again? The lessons that come too easily are not lessons that will stick for a lifetime, nor are they the lessons that we most need to learn.

The best lessons are the ones that make us sweat, physically or mentally or emotionally. They make us hot under the collar, in more ways than one. And while we would like to be able to say “These are the 50 most important lessons everyone has to learn before they die,” we just can’t. Are there 50 core things everyone should know? Sure. Absolutely. I’m sure every single person on this planet can make their own list of 50 things that everyone should know. I’ll even go so far as to bet a lot of the same things will show up on every single one of those lists. But they may not be the right lessons.

Take K and B and the solar oven. Solar ovens and how they work may seem like a rather insignificant lesson. A downright ordinary “you can learn that from a book” sort of lesson. B certainly took it that way — she had zero interest beyond a mild sort of curiosity. Even K, after building it and reading about it and trying it out for himself… he didn’t quite know what to make of it. It felt… anticlimactic. A sort of “that’s it?”-shaped dent in his sense of how things work.

But he knew he was missing something; that there was some crucial bit that was escaping him.

So he kept experimenting.

For days.

And the lesson he learned had nothing at all to do with solar ovens or the nature of solar radiation. Nothing to do with chocolate, either. The lesson he learned was that appearances can be deceiving. That you cannot merely trust the evidence your eyes present. That when it comes to finding answers, you need to go further than just looking at things. You need to get your hands dirty. To see if your chocolate has melted, you’ve got to stick your fingers right inside the oven and give those chocolate chips a poke.

You’ve got to get your hands dirty if you want to discover the truth.

That was a lesson worth learning.


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