A Berry Picking Time

Another favorite outdoor activity I had growing up, besides camping? Berry picking.

Every late-spring my mom would take me berry picking at the local farms. We tried to do two trips a year: strawberries and some other local fruit (blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, or apples). Living in New England meant shorter picking seasons so we could miss a specific harvest by a week depending on how well the fruit developed.

This meant my mom would announce one morning that she’d be heading to the farm in a few days and ask if I’d be willing to help her. When I was younger, I had little choice in the matter but I loved it anyway; and when I was older it would depend on my work schedule for the week.

I found on the days I had to work or go to school and miss helping her were always disappointing. She’d try to adjust her schedule to accommodate me, but sometimes the weather and harvest wouldn’t cooperate.

Our Family Traditions

Strawberries were a must in our family.

If we could only do one picking a year it was strawberries. We had a rhubarb plant growing in our backyard so my dad always requested a strawberry rhubarb pie every summer. My mother never believed in doing anything half-measure so she would make sure to bake him a pie with only the freshest ingredients: rhubarb and strawberries she picked herself.

With the haul, she would preserve a batch of strawberries in syrup. My mom would freeze this mixture and thaw it for Christmas morning every year. Our favorite traditional Christmas meal, besides the evening feast, was homemade scones, clotted cream, and those syrupy strawberries picked earlier in the year.

There was something wonderful in knowing that I helped make Christmas breakfast a little more special by helping pick those berries. During the cold, dark New England months it brought a little bit of spring sunshine for the day.

Another fun tradition that started while strawberry picking was the story about a mouse visiting his relatives whenever we picked. No matter the farm and no matter the location (I happen to know he’s moved down South), my mom and I would create this elaborate story about his adventures over the past year and all the fun he was having while visiting.

It was one of those fun traditions that started one day when my mom spotted a mouse in the patch we were picking in. I think she started talking about it to make sure I wasn’t startled or to keep herself from being startled, so a story began about why he was there. Our stories grew over the years, though we’ve never physically seen him again.

berrypicking

Jai helping pick strawberries this year. Photo credit: Michelle Melton Photography

Like all my favorite traditions and childhood memories, I’ve wanted to share them with Jai in some small way. I didn’t even wait for him to be born before I took him berry picking: I was between 5 to 7 months pregnant when I went picking for strawberries, peaches, and blueberries.

Last year, we took him peach and blueberry picking while he was in my carrier. This year we’ve gone strawberry and peach picking so far (blueberries are around the corner). Because peaches are on a tree, it was easier for him to physically help this year, though he may have grabbed several under-ripe ones for Ash, who’s a fan.

Jai is a blueberry lover,  and the farm we go to has such tall bushes that he’ll be able to help me again, so I know most of the fruit he picks will be put straight into his mouth and squished into my shirt. I have accepted and plan to be prepared for it.

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Beating the Heat with MS

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Multiple Sclerosis is no fun. Especially in the summertime.

Around this time of year, every year, I find that my energy and motivation wanes and my productivity level drops. I am pretty hard on myself, always having high expectations of my abilities and what I can get accomplished on a day-to-day basis, so any time I feel like I am doing less than what I could be doing, I get really down on myself.

I recognized that there is a pattern to my productivity levels depending on the temperature outside. On the cooler days of late fall, winter, and early spring I am able to get more done every day. It isn’t perfect or guaranteed, I am just more likely to get everything done that I want.

But once late spring, summer, and early fall hits, when the really hot and humid days sink in, I find that I am lucky to get more than two major things done on my to-do list. Most days require me taking a nap and if I push myself through it (and therefore too hard), I won’t get anything done past a certain time in the day.

Weekends are the hardest. I am so worn out chasing Jai around all week that when I get the opportunity to stay in bed for most of the day while Ash does the “heavy” lifting, I do. And then very little gets done on my to-do list.

There is a definite correlation between my productivity and the weather.

And I am not imagining it.

Heat & MS

It’s well-known that MS and heat do not go hand-in-hand. Many other MS patients find that the heat can be particularly draining, possibly due to electrical connections between neurons no longer being efficient from the heat. Because of this, flare-ups are more common, especially for those who suffer from spasticity.

In researching this post, I learned something I didn’t know: prior to MRIs and other efficient tests to diagnose MS, patients were submerged in hot water baths to gauge their symptom reactions to the heat.

I find this fact particularly interesting considering my intense love of hot, hot showers. Ash does not understand why I love them so much. And now I don’t know why I love them so much, I don’t find that it affects my body in a negative way, in fact, I find them extremely relaxing and soothing. I should try some lower-temperature showers to see how it impacts my energy level for the day. I may be negatively impacting my productivity in favor of a hot shower.

The recommendations by medical professionals are for MS patients to avoid the heat and humidity as much as possible. Some recommendations go so far as to tell patients to move to better climates. This is all well and good, but sometimes it’s unavoidable, not economically feasible, or we don’t want to let the weather affect our social plans.

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Outdoors for Urban-Dwellers

Living in a major metropolitan area makes having daily access to nature a challenge. While we’re lucky enough to have a wooded area near our house, but I know that not everyone is so lucky and wanted to compile ways to increase one’s exposure to nature.

Growing up in a rural area I learned to appreciate all that nature had to offer, but because Jai is going to grow up either in an urban or suburban location (unless something drastically changes), he’s not going to have the same amount of exposure I did. So bringing nature inside will be one task I will want to do as much as possible for his sake.

Bring Nature to You

Here are some simple and easy ways to bring nature to you to help you with reconnection. I didn’t want to limit it to adults with children, so you’ll find all of these suggestions work for adult-only households:

  • Container Gardening: a great way to create your own produce, especially if you live in a food desert or want to know the origin of your fresh vegetables. You don’t need a yard to have a container garden, as a window or balcony can afford you enough space.
  • Potted Plants: you don’t have to have a green thumb to grow and maintain potted plants. If you are worried that you’ll kill a plant, buy a succulent. They tend to be really difficult to kill.
  • Nature walks & classes: find a local nature preserve and check their class schedule. Most have outdoor classes for adults and children on the weekends with a suggested donation fee. Learn a new skill and get yourself out in the wild.
  • Remove the blinds and curtains: if you can, keep your blinds/curtains up all the time to allow for maximum sunlight in your space. Choosing to use the sun for light sources can also be soothing.
  • Picnics in the park: have a park nearby? Why not bring some food and blanket for a quick picnic. Perfect for any day, especially if you work on the weekends or have a tight schedule.
  • Wading pool: For adults and children. Nothing feels better than filling a wading pool in the heat of summer and dipping your feet in.
  • Centerpieces and home decor: If you spend enough time outdoors, consider creating a centerpiece for your table of the interesting sticks, rocks, or leaves you find interesting. Dry flowers and arrange them according to the season with found river rocks in the vase bottom.
  • Companion animal: this is pricier and more time intensive AND dependant on allergies, but consider adopting a companion animal. Animals are known stress-reducers and their wild natures can bring the outside in for you (especially walking the dog). Reptiles are great for places that might have pet fees or those with allergies.
  • Fruit picking trips: If you can, look to see if there is a local farm where you can pick-you-own fruit. It’s a fun experience and a great way to discover fun recipes with the leftovers.
  • Nature Arts & Crafts: I have a flower press that my dad made me when I was a child. I used to press the flowers and leaves I found to make cards or bookmarks. Finding a cheap flower press and making art with dried pieces is a great way to reconnect with nature and a fun gift for a friend.

What do you do to bring nature to you when it’s hard? Share your ideas and experiences in the comments.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton Photography


Benefits of an Anti-Inflammatory or Mediterranean Diet

One of the things that I have found most beneficial for my MS is to maintain an anti-inflammatory diet. This is because I am lowering my intake of foods that might cause flare-ups such as wheat, dairy, or sugar. It isn’t easy to drop these delicious foods, but it’s doable because there are plenty of delicious recipes available all over the internet and passable alternatives for specific cravings.

Unfortunately, some of the recipes take time and prep and if you are low on energy, that can be discouraging. Making food ahead or finding shortcuts can help minimize food prep-stress.

In the news recently, there’s been a lot of talk about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Looking at the two food pyramids for each diet there’s a lot of similarities between the two. So if you were ever considering doing the Mediterranean, or already on the Mediterranean, then you are maintaining an anti-inflammatory diet.

Food Pyramids

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Comparing the two, Dr. Weil breaks down the Mediterranean Diet in further detail, but each food category is in the same area of the pyramid; there are certain foods types you eat more of and others you eat less of and they overlap. While it may not be 100% the same, the overlaps are significant and the health benefits equitable.

The advantage to recognizing the similarity between the two is it can open up the doors for more recipe options with modifications. When starting new diets, it’s easy to get discouraged by recipe limitations. Having more options available can make the diet shift process smoother and more pleasant.

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Talking to others about MS

There comes a time to reveal a difficult diagnosis to those outside the immediate family.

This can be a stressful or liberating experience. Friends may have suspected all along or been completely surprised by the information shared with them.

Revealing your diagnosis is an intimate act because you are sharing something personal with a friend in the hopes they will be supportive.

Because we cannot control others’ reactions after such a revelation, waiting until you are ready to talk is extremely important for your emotional health.

When to Say Something

First of all: you do not owe an explanation for your health. If you choose to divulge your diagnosis, that is a decision only you can make. Do not let anyone else force the matter from you.

If someone is visibly unwell and been so for a while, it may be harder to keep diagnostic information from others, particularly if treatment starts. It may be a relief in telling others because there is finally some information to share, but don’t be surprised if holding onto that information a little longer is more important.

While there might be a temptation to tell people immediately after the diagnosis, waiting until the information is processed is best. It allows for better preparation both with reactions and questions. Knowing which friends can handle the information with care and sensitivity helps in deciding who gets what information first.

But there may be some friends, despite waiting until you are ready, that may scale back the friendship because they don’t know how to handle your diagnosis. This hurts, but being ready for it will help mitigate the pain versus being blindsided. I made this mistake a few times and each time I wish I had waited to reveal my diagnosis or not bothered at all.

Only you will know the right time to divulge information, there isn’t a magic number or “best by” date to tell others.

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