Civic Duty

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. 


Today, in the United States, is the mid-term elections. So I wanted to express how grateful I am to have the opportunity to vote.

I remember learning about voting through elementary school and about the suffrage movement at the beginning of the twentieth century. I grew up knowing that being able to vote was a right, but as a woman less than one hundred years away from the Nineteenth Amendment, it was also a privilege of sorts. My great-grandmothers would have gone part of their lives unable to vote whereas I knew that once I turned eighteen I could register.

As soon as I was able to, I registered to vote. Every time I moved I switched my registration. If I knew I wouldn’t make it to the polls for a particular election, I filed for an absentee ballot or moved heaven and earth to make it home. I can confidently say that I have not missed a single November or Primary election. I even try to go to the smaller ones for the local elections.

If I ever missed an opportunity to vote, I can count them on one hand.

Voting is extremely important to me. I recognize the sacrifice that the women underwent so many years ago to make sure I had that right to vote that I don’t want to ever waste that opportunity. I feel that I am able to honor these women by standing in line and waiting my turn to cast a ballot. By going to my polling station it’s an act of gratitude for all of those who went before me to make it possible.

I also recognize that my ability to vote and the fact that my vote counts, is a privilege. Not everyone has free and fair elections even in my own country. While there is a lot of vitriol out in the US political climate right now, our elections are still relatively free. Racially, I am part of two groups of people who have historically been disenfranchised, so each time I walk up to get my card I am nervous that I might run into some conflict with a poll worker.

My state is currently under national scrutiny for the disenfranchisement of some voters over the course the current mid-term elections, so getting out to vote was extremely important to Ash and me.

So important that with the exception of the 2016 elections (Jai was only one month old at the time), I make a point to bring Jai with me to vote. I want him to see that this is his right and if he wants to help bring about change, he needs to see how that happens. Right now he’s enjoying the sticker at the end, but when he gets older I want him to enjoy watching Mommy or Daddy pressing buttons on the screen and watching the card spit out after the vote is cast.

I will start explaining what each election is about, who is running in it, what they are running for, and explain why I am voting the way I am. I hope he’ll ask me plenty of questions along the way and more importantly, I hope it gets him excited to go out and vote as soon as he can at eighteen.

So while it may be a minor thing to be grateful for, I truly am glad that I have the opportunity to play such a small role in how my country is run. Sometimes it feels as though my voice isn’t heard or ignored, but I know that I did what I could regardless.

Do you enjoy voting? What’s your favorite part of the process? Share your thoughts and any fun stories in the comments below.


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A Month of Gratitude

With Halloween behind us, it’s time to look ahead to Thanksgiving and the whole upcoming holiday season. On Thanksgiving, while I don’t spend a lot of time meditating on things that I am thankful for, I do try to spend a few moments remembering the purpose of the day and express gratitude internally towards my situation. I recognize that I have a lot to be grateful for and I probably don’t spend enough time appreciating all of those elements in my life.

I decided that rather than spend the month discussing things to do around the home and things to do with children for the Thanksgiving holiday, I would use each post to explore some element in my life that I have gratitude. I may have consciously acknowledged this gratitude in the past (internally or externally) or this might be my first time really exploring the topic on a concious-level. It will make for an interesting series of posts that will range from superficial stuff to more complex parts of my life.

The purpose of this month-long exercise will be to increase my awareness for all the stuff in my life that I am and should be grateful about. By doing this, I will be more present in my own life (rather than focusing on the past or what might happen in the future), see increased health benefits, and increase my level of compassion for myself and others. Read about the researched benefits of gratitude here.

I think this will also help get me more into the holiday season as well: these last few years I’ve found it rather difficult to feel gratitude or want to celebrate despite having Jai in my life. I have worked hard this past year to take steps towards self-improvement, so spending some time focusing on the changes I’ve made and appreciating everything about the changes and my life is important to continue forward.

With each post, I will invite readers to take a few moments to find their own elements of gratitude in the same area of their life and either share it in the comments or share it with whoever should hear it.

It will be an interesting journey for November to be sure.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


Pumpkin Fun

Fall is a time for pumpkins and all the pumpkin things. I love all the pumpkin scented soaps, candles, and baking.  As soon as Labor Day Weekend is over with, I break out all the pumpkin scents.

But let’s be honest, that has more to do with the nutmeg than anything else.

Gathering real pumpkins and pumpkin related decorations is always a fun time for me. Ash rolls his eyes everytime I bring new decorations into the house. He prefers to keep the house undecorated throughout the year and with a toddler that’s a more realistic outlook to preserve the more delicate decorations.

Pumpkin Patches

One of our favorite activities is going to local pumpkin patches. I love picking out the perfect pumpkin to either carve or leave on our front walkway for decoration. But because we live in a major metropolitan area, finding a pumpkin that doesn’t come from a giant bin in the grocery store is tough.

Fortunately, we have an alternative within city limits: local religious and non-profit organizations set up pumpkin patches in their parking lots that are a great place to select a couple pumpkins for our house and get some pictures.

When Jai was less than a month old, we went to one and dressed him up as the “hungry caterpillar” to get some adorable photos amongst the pumpkins. 

The only disadvantage to these sorts of setups is that we don’t get all the other fun activities that go along with pumpkin patches: cider, hayrides, corn mazes, and fresh baked goods. That’s why I go to these places in a pinch when looking for last-minute pumpkins but go outside the metro area for the bigger farms.

Now that Jai is older, going to the larger pumpkin patches are become more necessary because of all the extra activities. He’s still too young for some, but hayrides and wandering around a field is a grand time for him.

Pumpkin (and Other Fall) Fun

Selecting a pumpkin isn’t the only fun activity to do in the fall. Some of my favorite things to do with pumpkins:

  • The expected: carving a pumpkin
  • Roasting pumpkin seeds
  • Mulling cider while carving a pumpkin
  • Painting pumpkins (better for little ones)
  • Roasting a pumpkin for recipes: pumpkin bread, pie, cake, coffee, and other delicious treats
  • As a kid, I loved counting the pumpkin lines just to see how many they had (looking for even or odd numbers)
  • Reading scary books and watching scary movies while eating roasted pumpkin seeds and drinking cider

What are some of your favorite pumpkin-related activities? Do you have a favorite pumpkin recipe you want to share? Comment with your thoughts below.


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Good for the Nerves: Fall & MS

MS is a disease that’s affected by the weather, particularly extreme temperature variables. Summer and wintertime can be particularly rough because of the temperature swings on either end of the thermometer. The temperate or more moderate weather of the spring and fall can offer some relief for those who need it.

I know that for myself when it’s a consistent mid-70’s with low humidity, I am at my most comfortable. I find that I have more energy, able to sleep better at night and find the need for a midday nap to be lower. I still need naps because I have an energetic toddler, but I can skip the nap with minimal impact on my evening energy levels.

I know that my MS situation is different from others, so what is comfortable for me to function may be uncomfortable for others. That’s the unfortunate truth about MS – while fall is the ideal season for me to be my best, it can make others miserable. If fall isn’t your season, that’s okay because there’s bound to be another season that works best with your illness.

Fall Weather & MS (in the South)

All of this is to say that the fall weather makes me happier. I feel like we get more temperate days in the fall than we do in the spring, though if I looked at the temperature statistics I am probably wrong.

In the South, fall means that while we may still get 90-degree days, it feels like the day’s heat dissipates faster in the evenings and takes longer to be oppressive in the mornings. It also brings more rain during the hurricane season, which is less helpful because of the humidity, but ideal in keeping temperatures lower.

More Activities to Keep Moving & Healthy

As discussed on Tuesday, fall festivals are a great way to get out and enjoy the outside with family and friends. Going on hikes, particularly in the South, are more pleasant because the leaves haven’t dropped just yet, so there’s enough shade from the sun in the forest.

Walks are more pleasant to take in the evening, more importantly, less of a mental hassle when you don’t have to consider bringing a bunch of cooling supplies to keep from overheating (for me: ventilated shoes, water, and a hat).

As a runner, I find that some of my best personal records happen between the months of October and April because of the milder weather. I also don’t run into the issues of dehydration headaches after a race that I get in the hotter month. I get these headaches no matter how much I hydrate before, during, or after the race.

If physically able, yardwork is less oppressive as well. Raking leaves is a great cardio activity to get moving, as is trimming bushes.

While hydrating is still extremely important for those of us with MS, I find that it’s not as imperative as it is in the hotter weather. I also find my means of hydrating open up: I am a huge tea drinker and love drinking herbal tea in the fall. While drinking straight water is always recommended, drinking herbal tea is easier to swallow than straight, boring water.

Relaxing Atmosphere: Less Stress, Less Flare-Ups

Scientifically speaking, fall is a more relaxing time of year: we’ve been conditioned to enjoy it at least in the United States. Fall elicits cozy feelings, warmth, and togetherness ahead of the holiday season. The idea of sitting by a fire pit with a cup of mulled cider, a blanket, and good company is extremely relaxing.

My happy place is Pumpkin Spice Lattes which are a huge indicator of fall. That first sip of the year always relaxes me in the  “ah, fall is finally here” sort of way.

Stress is a huge factor for flare-ups, at least for myself, so having relaxing evenings helps minimize my stress. Any stress that comes during the fall is usually the kind I enjoy, i.e. planning gatherings, parties, events, and outings.

While my first flare-up happened at the beginning of December nearly six years ago, most of my flare-ups happen in the winter and summer months. I think because I have worked hard to make fall a relaxing time of the year for myself.

If you have MS or a chronic illness that is affected by the weather, what do you do to help manage it during your favorite seasons? What is your favorite season and why? Leave a comment with your thoughts below.


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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