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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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


Personal Growth (after having a child)

Today is Jai’s 2nd birthday.

I wanted to spend the post reflecting on how much my life changed for the better since his arrival two years ago.  It’s going to be a post about me, but hopefully not too sappy when I talk about Jai and his impact on my life.

Life before a Toddler

To be cliche, life before a child is relatively uncomplicated. Any complications I had to deal with were of my own making. I was in graduate school, dealing with interpersonal drama, and trying to manage my MS. Granted, at the time, I didn’t see how I affected everything around me and how I could untangle myself from my complications, but I wasn’t ready to receive the wisdom that life experience gives to tell me that.

To be fair, life with a child isn’t any more complicated than without – it’s just what becomes complicated shifts and you are now responsible for another human being. Life is complicated in a different way.

Before Jai, my life was completely unfocused. I had to figure out how to handle my diagnosis, I needed to re-prioritize my life, and I needed to figure out what direction I wanted to go in for the long-term. Many moments were spent just allowing myself to be distracted from figuring out what I wanted to do and allowing myself to remain in a rut.

This would include binge-watching TV, comfort eating, playing games, teaching without forward momentum, and finding other means to avoid dealing with what kept me from finding focus.

I thought when I re-prioritized my life after accepting my MS that I was done, but I still engaged in avoidant behavior when it came to making major life decisions. I needed to drop toxic people from my life (and be okay when they left), make serious professional decisions, and do a better job managing my health.

I think in some part having a child was another means of distracting me from making those decisions. I had a biological desire to have a child, but I also wanted to push decision-making down the road for a couple more years. Not a good reason to have a child, by the way. It’s not fair to them and it’s not fair to the parents.

Changing for the Better

It wasn’t an instantaneous change when Jai was born. I had to recover, readjust, and reprioritize my life with a new family member. A newborn provides a great distraction for those looking to be distracted. But after my MRI in July 2017, coupled with Jai’s increasing solid food diet, I realized that I needed to make some serious life changes.

On the days I drove to work I saw a sign that said: “be the person your dog believes you to be.” I always thought it was a silly sign mainly because I am a cat person and I never gave it much thought to the philosophy behind it. Once I had Jai I reflected on what the sign truly meant (but switched out “a dog” for “a child”): a child views a parent as a protector, educator, and comfort. I realized that I needed to become the person Jai thought I was to the best of my ability.

That’s when I decided to begin my journey towards healthier living, not just physically but mentally and emotionally. Jai didn’t make me change, that wasn’t and never will be his responsibility. I was changing for Jai and mostly for myself. I realized that I was extremely unhappy with where I was in life and that unhappiness was going to impact Jai.

But it would be dishonest to say that I would have made these changes with or without a child. I would like to think that I had enough self-awareness to make the changes eventually, that I would get tired of my status quo, but I don’t think I would have gone in a positive direction. I suspect I would have given up on a lot of things and just existed, waiting for my MS to progress to the point of no return.

I think that having something outside of me and dependant upon me, beyond a cat, was my “rock bottom.” Having Jai was both the highlight of my life up to that point, but the wake-up call I needed to have to make necessary changes. Again, not his responsibility, but for me was the kick in the pants I needed to make improvements.

There are plenty of days where I wish I made these changes before having Jai, but I don’t believe in indulging too much in regret, so here I am.

Moving Forward

I am hoping that I will continue to grow and change in positive ways for Jai. I want to be the person he believes I am: confident, caring, kind, strong, and comfort. It’s important that I model positive behaviors for him so he can become the person I know he can be.

I just find it so hard to believe that another person can make someone want to change for the better. I wanted to be a better person for Ash when we first met, but I moved at a glacier’s pace for him. With Jai, when I made the decision to change it was much faster and more persistent.

I think the best birthday present I could give Jai is my commitment to him and continuing to be the best, yet acceptable imperfect, parent he needs in his life.


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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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Food & Love

Food has long been considered a language of love.

My mother expressed her love for her family by cooking delicious dishes and passing her knowledge of cooking and baking to me. I plan to pass this love to Jai as he grows up so he will cook and bake for his family.

But before Jai, there was Ash. And before Ash, officially, there was the dating/courtship period of our relationship. At the time we met and started dating I was taking temp jobs, this was during the depths of the economic downturn, and so my resources were limited for what I could do with him for our dates.

Being a gentleman, he offered to pay, but being independent I refused to let him pay for more than one date in a row without us at least splitting the cost. Rather, I offered to make him dinner at his apartment, for him and his roommates, as often as I could. It allowed us to spend time together, watch some movies/shows we had common interests and keep our costs low. Additionally, I could show him something I was good at to impress him.

Getting to Know You

I met Ash at a restaurant for a mutual friend’s birthday party. We chatted for a bit, I was interested but unable to really pursue him at the time. Several months later we reconnected after hanging out at another friend’s house a couple of times and decided that we wanted to be more serious in our relationship.

Ash’s birthday is at the beginning of the year and at that point in our relationship I couldn’t find work, so I had no money to buy a special present for him. We’d been dating for two months at that point and he told me, as he still tells me, that I didn’t have to get him anything special for his birthday. I insisted, so he suggested making him dinner.

Ash has never been one to hide his love for meat. Specifically, red meat.

I found a recipe for grilled steak with herbed butter, potatoes, and green beans. I spent the better part of the day making it for him because I wanted it to be perfect. Up to that point, I had made what I considered safe meals. These were meals I knew I couldn’t screw up but didn’t really show my range. Here was an opportunity to show my abilities. Fortunately, it was a success and to this day he comments about how much he loved that birthday present.

From then on out, I spent more time expanding my culinary skills to impress Ash. I would ask what he wanted to eat, he would buy the ingredients and I would throw something together in his kitchen for him. Most days we shared with his roommates, but some days we kept it for ourselves while we watched anime.

I had one obstacle in my cooking that I wanted to overcome, because don’t all overly ambitious partners want to do this?

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My Love of Cooking (& Baking)

Every superhero has an origin story.

My superpowers reside in the kitchen. I am not going to put on false humility about it: I am a great cook and baker. Are there people who are better? Absolutely, and I am not going to be joining any competition shows because I know there are plenty of people who are better than me. But I am good.

Growing up, cooking and baking was an act of love for my mother. Every meal contained a lot of passion, care, and flavor. Seeing her work in the kitchen was inspiring and made me want to be like her. When I grew up, I wanted to have a family tied together by my cooking just like we were with hers.

What follows is my introduction to the art of cooking (& baking) and how I fell in love with it as a hobby.

A Childhood Introduction

My childhood home was centered around the kitchen as the main gathering place – for eating, cleaning, and chatting. Many hours were spent there – most of the time with my mom working and me just watching her prep, assemble, and make. I would stand behind the stove and chat about my day at school while she made dinner or dessert.

I absorbed all that she did while I watched her work. Many times I was asked to stir something while she moved onto the next step and other times I felt comfortable enough to ask her questions: how can you tell the candy is ready? why does the temperature of the oven matter? what does a clean knife mean after inserting it into the cake?

I never saw her get discouraged in her work. Frustrated, yes. But not discouraged. If a dish didn’t work out quite like she wanted, she never threw in the towel. She would look over the recipe and realize that most of the time it was written badly. Her cookbooks are littered with marginalia to direct her future self on how to make the recipe a success. 

I didn’t stay on the sidelines either. My real introduction occurred when my mom had me help her as a toddler, with my first project using cookie cutters for a batch of Christmas sugar cookies. I would press the cutter into the dough and many times the dough would come out with the cutter, stuck. I would pull this dough out of the cutter and pop it into my mouth. I think out of a potential batch of 24 cookies, we successfully made 18. It was my earliest experience as a quality control tester as well.

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