The Big & the Little Things

For the month of November, I am taking each day to highlight some element in my life that I want to express my gratitude about. This could be something deeply personal or just a passing appreciation for something more superficial. 


It always feels weird “counting one’s riches” because it seems like bragging, but I think it’s important to acknowledge the objects I have to make my life easier.

A lot of gratitude exercises focus on the internal and intangible, which to be fair are things that should hold deeper meaning in our lives, but something could be said for the objects we possess. The trap is when someone focuses on what they have, they can also see what they lack which can cause frustration and undermine the whole exercise.

Avoiding that trap, I want to focus my gratefulness for my basic possessions. I think it’s important to look at what I have and where I am in life because every person is one or two decisions/disasters away from losing these objects.

Living Arrangements

I am lucky enough to live in a house, though if you’ve ever had a conversation with me you know how much I hate the house itself. I can spend a half-hour ranting about all the things wrong with it, but deep down I acknowledge that I could be in a situation without a living arrangement.

Owning a house is important from a social perspective, though people of my generation are buying less and opting to rent more, it also means that it is ours with little opportunity to lose it beyond a disaster. There is a security that comes from our current living arrangement.

As the days grow shorter and the nights much colder, I recognize how fortunate we are to have a warm house to sleep in, especially for Jai. Living insecurity is a real concern even in America for children, so knowing that he has a safe, warm, and secure place for Jai to sleep at night takes a load of worry off of my mind.

Transportation

We live in a major metropolitan area that has its own transportation system, though massively flawed. When I first moved down ten years ago from New England, I depended on this form of transportation because I didn’t have a vehicle. While it was imperfect, I remember being grateful to have it available to get to my various jobs around the city.

I grew up in an area that didn’t even have regional transportation and what little transportation it did have it was reserved for people with disabilities and not for the general public. Going from nothing to something was opening up the world for me and I loved it. It might take me two hours to get somewhere, but I could get there.

Several years after the move down I got my car back (I previously had no means to park it which is why it stayed behind) and going from public transportation to having a vehicle was even more freeing. I made sure to give rides to people who needed them to return the favors I accumulated over the years without a car. While I could now cut trip times down by half, I never forgot my time on public transportation.

Anytime I can go somewhere and use public transportation, I take the chance even with Jai. I want him to learn and appreciate the transportation system we have in place. I am a huge defender of our transportation system, though I will heavily qualify it as problematic and needing fixing, I do want to see the changes.

That said, I am grateful I have a vehicle and when I go an extended period of time without my car, even with a rental, I recognize how important it is in my life.

Food

During the same period ten years ago when I didn’t have my car I also went through an extremely lean period regarding my ability to eat. I was struggling to make ends meet and chose to pay for my bills and rent over buying food for myself. I started dating Ash around this time, but I didn’t admit to him how little I could afford to eat. Rather, I would offer to make him dinner which was cheaper, provided he pay for the ingredients.

I lost a lot of weight during that time between not being able to eat and walking everywhere with public transportation. I was grateful for that silver lining (I had plenty of weight to lose at that point).

While I figured I would eventually see the end of this lean eating period, I knew I had it better than others. I was able to eat at least one quality meal a day, but I know there are plenty of others who can go days without food or quality food options.

I honestly found this period of my life to be the most enlightening, food uncertainty did help shape my personal perspective going forward: I would always donate and help out in any way I could for others who had no way of knowing when their period of lean eating would come to an end.

When Jai gets older, I want to bring him to opportunities to help others who are dealing with food uncertainty. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, a major charity in our city opens up its facilities for people to donate their time and energy to make meals for the poor. I have always wanted to donate my time there, but haven’t had the ability. I think when he’s 7 he’ll be ready to help and appreciate what he is doing for others.

What are some of the more tangible things you are grateful for in your life? What brings about an appreciation for these things? Comment with your thoughts below.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


Food & September

Food is something I love and I love to share that love with others. I hope you enjoyed reading and trying some of the recipes – my favorites were the pumpkin spice latte and the celebration cake. Both go perfectly together and are relatively guilt-free if you’re watching what you eat.

I enjoyed sharing what I am doing with Jai to encourage his love of food and how I plan to minimize picky eating should it arise. Jai has already expressed an interest to help me in the kitchen which I hope to continue to foster into adulthood as much as possible.

We’re in the kitchen for some more goodies in the upcoming months that I am looking forward to sharing, so keep your eyes open (and make sure to follow MS//Mommy if you don’t already) for new and exciting recipes.

Looking ahead

There are going to be some changes in the next three months at MS//Mommy. I am dropping down to a twice-a-week posting schedule, so posts will be on Tuesdays & Thursdays instead of the Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule.

If you follow my social media accounts, you’ll still see my “repost” Saturdays.

I wanted to spend the next couple of months working on some side projects relating to the blog and overhauls to the site now that I’ve been doing this for a year. To ensure that I am still providing quality posts, I decided that a twice-a-week schedule would be best for the rest of the year.

Speaking of social media accounts: if you don’t already follow me – please check out my Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr. There you’ll get extra articles, thoughts, and pictures relating to the blog.

Here’s to October – one of my favorite months of the year!


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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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