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


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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Simple 3-Ingredient Fruit Leather

Jai and I went strawberry picking yesterday, our first of the fruit season. It was his first-time strawberry picking, though he went peach picking with me last year. He seemed to enjoy himself, although he stayed in his carrier the whole time which isn’t a bad way to spend the time: comfortable transportation AND food service? Yes, please.

This bodes well for blueberry picking because the farm we go to has tall bushes that are out of reach for little ones. He may be able to grab a few while he’s on my back and if he doesn’t, he won’t be bored while I pick.

I snuck a couple of (rinsed) berries to him while he was back there and he seemed to be a fan, though he was more into eating them once we got home.

Strawberries have an extremely short shelf-life, so I had to come up with some ways to preserve them beyond a couple of days. We got huge bucket-full so I needed to think of something quick.

Jai is on a fruit leather kick so I decided to make some from the fresh strawberries. I hunted around for some recipes and settled on this one, but I made my own modifications to veganize and help naturally sweeten the leather some more.

I’ve written up my modifications below, but do check out Momables for other great healthy eating ideas for little ones.

berrypicking

Jai’s first berry-picking experience. He was the official quality control agent: my shirt-back can attest with all the strawberry stains.

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Personal Health Check-In

Today I will be reflecting on my overall health, how I am feeling physically and mentally, and also talking about my MS Symptoms and if I’ve noticed any changes with the lifestyle changes I’ve made.

Physical Health

I am close to peak health right now. I have lost enough weight that I am no longer in the “overweight” BMI range but in the “normal” range.  I haven’t seen this number since before high school.

I have found that I feel lighter and less sluggish, though that may have more to do with my metabolism. Regardless, I wanted to find a natural way to get more energy and I have succeeded.

With the good, comes the bad: I had a couple of days where my stomach hurt after eating and I wasn’t sure what was going on.  After visiting two different doctors, I found out that I have h.pylori. I suspect I picked it up from contaminated water caused by a water main break back in early March. We boiled water and followed the warnings, but the county was slow on placing a boil advisory and probably too quick in lifting it. I am currently on the recommended antibiotic regimen, and I wouldn’t wish those horse pills on anyone.

To balance that out, since I am destroying my gut bacteria, I have upped my probiotic intake via supplements and drinking a lot of kombucha.

I do suspect that I might have a lactose sensitivity in addition to this infection because my stomach would hurt almost every time I had dairy. The source of the pain was inconsistent because it would happen after eating other foods too, but after eating something high in lactose it would inevitably cause some sort of pain.

On the days where I don’t eat any dairy, I feel absolutely normal. Especially during this minor reset: I haven’t had any stomach pain since Wednesday.

As Ash says, I’ve reset my body to the point that I cannot enjoy some of the foods I used to; my body is now a finely tuned machine and I need to be careful what type of fuel I put into it.

This stinks because if I had always wanted to go back to eating dairy products, I really can’t because I don’t like how I feel afterward. I know there are some measures I can take to cheat now and then, but it is clear that my body is treating lactose the same way it treats sugar: beginning to reject the stuff. This isn’t a surprise because I always suspected I had a dairy sensitivity since I was a kid, but like with sugar, I would ignore any symptoms I had in favor of eating cheese.

I am looking at this as a plus: by removing dairy from my diet I am lowering my flare-up chances. Back when I did research for the week I dropped dairy, I found out dairy contains a protein that can increase my chances of a flare-up. Basically, I can’t cheat and have a nibble of dairy whenever I want.

I am one of those people that, even if I can handle it, I tend to not want to do anything that could inconvenience myself. It’s just easier to avoid dairy and sugar than deal with the consequences of how I feel afterward. I may try lactaid if I absolutely want to eat something with lactose, otherwise avoiding the matter altogether is easier for my well-being.

Mental & Emotional Health

These physical changes have helped with my mental health.;

I am feeling better mentally, with the occasional down moment, but overall I am doing well. Keeping busy with the blog and feeling productive has helped improve my mood. I think by feeling productive, I don’t feel like my MS is bothering me as much as it does.

 

I am finding that I am working very hard to be more compassionate and self-compassionate. That has helped lower my intense emotions significantly. I am finding things don’t bother me as much as they used to which has been really helpful in getting through the day. I feel that I’ve been providing Jai with a good example because of it.

MS Health

Overall, I don’t really notice a huge difference in my symptoms since my last check-in. I find that by removing certain things from my diet helps give me a minor energy boost because I am not feeling bogged down. But the difference tends to be negligible.

I still have issues with fatigue and mental fog, but my L’Hermittes Sign and MS Hug haven’t made a reappearance since February for which I am grateful.

I have an appointment with my neurologist later this month, but without an MRI, so I will be updating with his assessment of my overall condition. I count not needing an MRI as a personal win: I don’t hate getting them, but it means my neurologist believes my condition is stable enough that an MRI is unnecessary.

I talked about restarting my drug-therapy once Jai weans from breastfeeding, but I am finding it hard because of how good I’ve been feeling without it. Not going back on Tecfidera means that I will be putting my long-term health at risk of progressing into SPMS, so there is a lot of important things to consider if I do decide to hold off a while longer.

The Takeaway

That’s how I am feeling overall and I would say that I am feeling pretty good. It’s been a lot of work to get here, but I would have to say taking it a little bit at a time has helped. Remembering not to put too much pressure has helped keep me going on the lower-motivation days.


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“Leftover” Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

Quinoa is a power-protein seed and a favorite in our household.  But with any sort of “grain,” you can make too much of it by accident for a recipe or find that you have boring leftovers that need sprucing up.

I am a person that can’t have the same thing too many nights in a row, so when I have extra quinoa in the refrigerator, something needs to be done with it to make it interesting again.

With that in mind, below is a delicious vegan recipe I came up with to handle extra cooked quinoa. It’s also a fantastic make on its own – no need to wait for leftover quinoa.

Leave a comment with your thoughts and modifications to the recipe below.


“Leftover” Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

LeftoverQuinoaPepperspin

 

Serving Size: 6

Ingredients
3 large red peppers, sliced lengthwise and de-seeded
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small white onion, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt (omit if you are making low sodium)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 (14.5 ounces) can diced tomatoes, drained and juice reserved
1 Cup vegetable broth
1/2 Cup cooked quinoa
1 (16 ounces) can vegetarian refried beans
Large handful from 1 (5 ounces) package fresh spinach
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Using 1 Tablespoon of olive oil, coat the bottom of a 9 x 13-in glass baking dish and arrange the peppers with the skin down.
  2. Roast peppers in the preheated oven until tender for about 30 minutes. Dab the excess liquid that collects in the peppers with a paper towel. Leave the oven on.
  3. While the peppers are roasting, use the remaining olive oil, heat skillet over medium heat and cook the onion until translucent and softened. Add garlic, cumin, salt, black pepper, and chili powder to the onion; cook and stir until fragrant (about 1 minute).
  4. Mix in tomatoes, vegetable broth, and cooked quinoa to the onion mixture; stirring occasionally. Cook until everything is heated through (about 6 minutes) and some of the liquid has cooked off.
  5. Stir in refried beans and cook until the beans incorporated into the mixture (about 3 minutes). You want this to have a thick consistency (not too soupy), but you also don’t want it to be too dry, so allow to simmer for a few minutes or add in reserved tomato juice to get the desired consistency.
  6. Add in spinach, stir until it just wilts. Remove from heat.
  7. Spoon the mixture into the roasted red peppers, top with nutritional yeast.
  8. Bake in the oven until the pepper gets crispy around the cut portions, about 20 minutes.

 

Notes

  • To reduce the spice level, use only 1/4 teaspoon of chili powder.
  • To increase the spice level, add a chopped, deseeded jalapeno to Step 4.
  • Add in 1 Cup of frozen sweet corn to step 5 with the refried beans to get a sweet contrast.
  • To make non-vegan version: substitute chicken broth and a shredded Mexican cheese blend for the vegetable broth and nutritional yeast respectively. Add any chopped leftover chicken as well.
  • Leftover white or brown rice will work as a nice substitute for the quinoa.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1 pepper half
1 Serving: 170 Calories; Fat: 6 g; Sat. Fat: 1 g; Protein: 7 g; Fiber: 7 g

Bonus Recipe – Vegan Nachos

This recipe will leave you extra filling for 3 more peppers. If you don’t want to make another batch:

Ingredients
Leftover quinoa stuffing
1 (4.5 ounces) chopped green chilies, drained
Tortilla Chips
Vegan cheese good for melting (or shredded Mexican cheese blend)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper and top with a layer of tortilla chips.
  2. Mix in green chilies to the quinoa mixture.  Just before putting into the oven, sprinkle a layer of the stuffing and top with your favorite vegan cheese.
  3. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese has melted. Serve with your favorite salsa.

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Photo Credit: Michelle Melton Photography