Fall Festival Fun

Depending on where you live, festivals are happening throughout the year. Living in the South, we tend to only have major festivals in the spring and fall when the weather is optimal. Because fall in the South is vastly different from what I grew up with, I’ve come to rely on the fall festivals to be a vehicle to “feeling” the fall season.

A lot of that stems from childhood activities during the fall and the mother of all fall festivals.

My Love for Fall Festivals

Growing up in New England, every year around this time is a massive fall festival that highlights all the New England states. Centrally located, going to this festival was a highlight of my childhood. For many children, myself included, it meant skipping a day of school in favor of going because the weekends were always too crowded.

This festival takes place on massive fairgrounds with several exhibition halls filled to the brim with vendors, displays, competitions, food, and informational exhibits. A crowd favorite? A butter sculpture that changes from year-to-year. They also have different buildings that highlighted everything each New England State produces or grows.

It was at this festival I learned about a new thing called “the information superhighway,” or the “World Wide Web.” They had an exhibit explaining what this new-fangled, recently released to the public in a more open capacity (it was limited until that point). I was more interested in the coloring book and stickers I got after going through the exhibit than what it had to tell me about “the internet.” Oh, if only I knew.

They also had a sizable midway and barns filled with various livestock for show and sales. In high school, I attended most years either as a volunteer for the agricultural display where we made free bows for fairgoers or as part of a competition. Never won anything significant, but it was always a fun excuse to skip school legitimately.

Unfortunately, there is nothing comparable in the South, at least nothing I’ve found. I do have plans to bring Jai up when he’s older so he can experience the same excitement I had for this festival as a kid.

Fun & Cheap (even Free!)

Another reason why I love fall festivals is their price. A favorite one we attend every year is only $10 for the public to attend, but free for members. Once inside, goers are able to view various points-of-interest, participate in fun activities for children, watch dancers showing off, listen to music and walk through both food and trinket vendors.

Other festivals near where we live are free to attend, which can also include free demonstrations and live music that always appeal to fascinated toddlers. There is never a requirement to spend money at these festivals, which both Ash and I love, though we try to support local artisans when the price is reasonable.

Suggestions for Attending (especially in hotter climates)

Some tricks that I’ve gathered from attending festivals all these years

  • Bring a sizable and easy to carry a water bottle. Water can get expensive but is necessary to have when dealing with hot weather and walking around.
  • Limit alcohol consumption (even if it’s a wine/beer festival). If it’s a particularly hot day, drinking too much will quickly dehydrate you. If you must drink, consider matching each cup/glass with an equivalent amount of water.
  • Hats, sunscreen – the works for sun protection. Some locations may not have shade and where they do you may end up fighting others for space.
  • Bring layers, comfortable shoes, and check the weather. While in the South, wearing shorts and tee-shirts might be the standard uniform for most days, there are the occasional cooler days where having a sweatshirt for part of it might be ideal. Comfortable shoes are also a must as most of your activity will be walking up to a mile.
  • If allowed, bring in a picnic lunch to help save money and stick to a healthy eating plan. Festivals always have tempting terrible foods that are deep-fried, but if you are trying to eat healthily, it can be discouraging to see and smell the foods you want to try but know you shouldn’t. Bring the main parts of your lunch if you can and then treat yourself after you’ve eaten to a festival dish. That way you are already full and will eat less and only limiting yourself to one unhealthy item versus a meal’s worth.
  • For those with children:
    • No matter the age, an extra set of clothes (especially bathing suit & towel) and shoes. Some places have previously unknown water/pool offerings and nothing is more discouraging to a kid than saying “no” because you are unprepared.
    • Bring cash because some festivals have play areas to burn off energy that might only accept cash.
    • If bringing a lot of stuff and you have one, consider bringing a heftier stroller versus the simple umbrella stroller. Strollers are great for carrying food, extra clothing, etc. If your little one is too old for a stroller, consider a collapsible wagon. Some are highly rated and can carry up to 150 lbs (which will be useful when little ones outgrow that).
  • For those with MS or illnesses affected by the heat:
    • Bring a cooling towel of some sort that you can re-wet frequently to help keep you cool.
    • A portable chair that can function as a cane while walking around. Getting down on the ground can be difficult and more difficult to get up.
    • Check, if you can, for motorized access if you use a scooter. Most festivals have to be ADA compliant, but one of the ones near where we live has very narrow walking paths between the vendor tents which can make it frustrating for those in a scooter.

What are some of your favorite fall festivals that you attend? Do you have any fun childhood memories of fairs? Share your experiences in the comments below.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


A Culinary Education

Part of the process of raising a foodie is teaching a child how to cook and bake. If you want to appreciate what’s in front of you, you have to know how it’s made on a fundamental level.

Jai knowing how to cook and bake by the time he turns 18 is important to me. I want to know that he is able to take care of himself in the most basic ways without having to rely on others to do it for him. If despite knowing how to make meals for himself, he chooses fast food every night for months on end, I am okay with that. When he’s ready to impress a potential partner or roommate with his domestic skills, he’ll be able to do so.

To start this education, it means that I need to introduce him to the kitchen as soon as he’s ready. Right now I am letting it take a more natural route, letting him drift in and out of the kitchen, answering questions he might have and include him when I can. I don’t force the issue once he’s lost interest. I want the experience to be enjoyable, not frustrating for either of us.

Innate Helpers (and how to take Advantage)

Toddlers are innate helpers. They want to help parents around the house even when it makes more of a mess in the process. Unfortunately, there is a tendency for parents to discourage this “helping” desire because of the mess, which discourages the child’s desire to help as they grow older.

Rather than discourage this tendency, it’s recommended to encourage it as much as possible, which is what I do with Jai. I try not to take the task away from him when he makes more of a mess, but gently guide him towards the appropriate way to clean or pick up his stuff. At this point his responsibility level is minimal, but his enthusiasm is astronomical.

Right now, it makes more work for me, but I know that as he grows older he will be able to be more helpful. I am just waiting for his attention span, dexterity, and even a growth spurt or two to come in before he is able to help in a more meaningful way. Until that happens, though, I have to continue to encourage his help even when it slows me way down.

With that in mind, I work in more time to do certain tasks that I know he’ll be interested within the kitchen. Breakfast isn’t a quick ordeal because he has to help me crack the eggs, scramble them in a bowl, put the cooking spray cap on, and supervise my cooking of the eggs. What should take me 5 minutes from start to clean-up takes about 10 because we have to wash his hands after cracking the eggs in the bowl and little distractions that stop all progress for a few seconds.

There are days where he’ll hear the blender running and come rushing in to see what is happening. In those instances, I shut the blender off, show him what’s inside (though mostly pulverized), and let him push the button to get it started again.

There are other days where something I am working on bothers him for no explanation. I was trying to assemble my espresso stovetop maker the other day and he came in to check on what I was doing. He saw the utensil in my hands and got very upset. I tried to figure out what was bothering him about the maker, but he was just shaking his head, going “no, no, no” in an extremely concerned voice. I put it down and waited until he left the kitchen, 5 minutes later, before I tried to assemble and make my coffee again.

What it boils down to is respecting his wishes and independence in the kitchen, even at 23-months. I am respecting his desire to help, learn, and make (some) decisions with the end goal of him feeling comfortable helping me and learning more when he is ready.

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Raising a Lil Foodie

I’ve already mentioned how important to me it is for Jai to grow up loving food as much as I did. But teaching Jai to love food isn’t the only important thing. It’s also teaching him how to love the process of making food and learning to be open to the variety that food has to offer.

Food is one of those universal languages, like math, where it is an important form of communication that transcends language and cultural barriers. I found that my introduction to new cultures wasn’t from media, but taking an evening to try a different ethnic food. One of my fondest memories from undergraduate was spending late nights ordering Indian and watching Bollywood movies with my Pakistani roommates.

Food is tangible, hitting all of the senses, and doesn’t allow for an abstract appreciation of another culture, but an immersive appreciation. I can teach Jai all I want about his Indian/Portuguese/Puerto Rican/Irish/Italian heritage, but it will become more real when I make him dishes from each culture. It grants him a connection to his heritage that he can appreciate until we get an opportunity to visit these countries ourselves.

So including food as part of Jai’s education is important to me, so much so that I want to raise him to be a foodie. How millennial of me.

When I talk about raising a foodie, I understand all the negative connotations: it sounds so pretentious when a parent says “Quinoa is such a foodie. We raised them to love kale, microgreens, and only the finest truffle infused rapeseed oil.”

I am not looking to raise a kid who only eats gourmet ingredients. I want a kid that will look at a new dish and try to deconstruct it to see how it was made, if only as a mental exercise during mealtime.

More than anything, I want him to appreciate all the food placed before him and appreciate the work that goes into getting it there, whether at home or out at a restaurant. Read More


Recipe Friday: Celebration Cake

MS//Mommy is reaching a milestone this weekend: on Sunday we will be celebrating our one-year anniversary. In honor of this milestone, we asked Michelle Melton to share with us a sugar-free cake recipe – perfect for all sorts of celebrations.


frostedcake

One of my favorite lines from Ray Romano’s early stand-up routine was about his, then 3-year-old daughter, Alexandra. As they were driving along, he noticed that she stared out the window smiling at nothing in particular.  When he asked her what she was thinking about, she replied “candy!”

Even at 60, I remember clearly the joy as a child that was candy, ice cream, and other sugary treats.  My friends and I would walk to the drug store clutching our quarters and stand in front of the rows of candy trying to decide which choices would yield the most pleasure for our money.  Our neighborhood was visited by three different ice cream trucks each day during the summer and though my mother would limit the purchases to occasionally, the sound of bells or a music box-like jingle would send me running home with the hope that, perhaps today, might be the day. A few years later, when a candy company introduced a large-sized lollipop with a sweet side and a tart side, bringing it to school, became the cool thing to do in sixth grade.

With such a long-standing and deep-rooted love of sweets, one would imagine that once I became a mother, I would be sympathetic to a child’s love of candy and desserts.  But nothing could be further from the truth.

As I watched those beautiful new teeth emerge in my infant daughter’s mouth I vowed (successfully) that she would live life cavity-free.  Since sugar-filled treats had been the source of my numerous dental fillings, I chose to limit the introduction of candy and other treats into her life.  If we did indulge, I chose high-quality or homemade confections and desserts.  We enjoyed candy on special occasions and holidays but rather than using candy as a gift or reward, I would instead choose small toys or other useful items like pens and pencils, especially on the annual homemade advent calendar.

It was by coincidence last year when my daughter decided to remove cane sugar from her diet that I had been investigating the idea at the same time.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I was already living gluten-free off and on so the concept of removing sugar seemed daunting. I decided to postpone going entirely gluten-free until after the first of this year and instead joined my daughter in her effort to use sugar alternatives (honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, xylitol) in place of cane sugar.  With birthdays and the holidays approaching at this time last year, the effort to convert favorite recipes to these substitutes was going to be difficult enough without the added trouble of trying to use gluten-free flours.

My first sugar substitute of choice was coconut sugar.  It is readily available at most grocery stores and it is also the least expensive.

It could be substituted one-to-one for the sugar called for in recipes.  However, one of the drawbacks is the brown color which, when combined with foods like fruit give the mixture an unappealing look, though it works well in recipes as a replacement for brown sugar.

The last drawback is one I haven’t read about so I am guessing few people have noticed this but coconut sugar is oily.  It seems to retain some of the oil found in the coconut and therefore, can interfere in the finished product.  For example, when I tried to make homemade chocolate chips, the final product would not solidify properly because of the added oil.  Coconut sugar is a great substitute as long as these characteristics are taken into consideration.  If appearance, taste and setting up isn’t an issue (as when making chocolate syrup for milk) then I use coconut sugar.

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Food and the Toddler

Picky eating and toddlers go hand-in-hand, right?

When we think of toddlers, culturally speaking, we think of “terrible twos” and picky eaters. Every moment is a fight or ramping up to a tantrum of some sort and there’s a parent in the background praying for this stage to end soon.

But it doesn’t have to be like that.

In a nutshell: picky eating is about exerting control over what a toddler puts in their body. It may stem for a genuine dislike for a particular piece of food, an unknown allergy, modeling behavior seen, or just testing to see what they can get away with at mealtime.

With this in mind, a parent can respect a toddler’s need for control, respect their desires, and give them a safe space to experiment without causing food issues down the road.


Note: there are going to be periods of “picky” eating with every child. I am not suggesting that this will stop those moments, but this will help manage those moments so it doesn’t become the norm. Also, consider the personality of your child: some children have a personality that is drawn towards assertive behaviors. Honor that personality type and find ways to work with them to help manage mealtime.

I acknowledge that this post will not help in situations where the child has sensory issues with food. Experts may label it as picky eating for brevity, but that is a separate issue from a child refusing to eat as a means to defy a parent.


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