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


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 Baby

What follows is an analysis of my personal experience of introducing solid food to a baby. Please do not take this as medical or expert advice on the matter and always refer to your child’s pediatrician for advice and input on your child’s nutrition. Please refer to my disclosure policy for more information.


Food is extremely important in our house.

Ash loves food. I love food. And it was important to raise Jai to love and appreciate food. I knew that this meant giving him a good foundation when we started solids, but I was nervous when it came time to start.

There are a lot of theories out there about how best to introduce solids to a baby. I knew I wanted to wait until his pediatrician gave the go-ahead, around 4 months, but just because he was physically ready didn’t mean that some experts suggested waiting until he was older.

I was excited to start him on solids but concerned he would choke in the process of introducing solids. I know babies are introduced to solids every day with minimal issues, but I had that parental fear that my situation would be unique and I would cause harm.

I followed my intuition and started him as soon as I could, but made sure everything was smooth enough for him and avoided baby-led weaning. I think if we had to do it again with a second child, with my experience, I would feel more comfortable with baby-led weaning, but because I wasn’t sure what I was doing I wanted to make sure I took small steps until I gained my confidence over the whole matter.

Starting Solids

For all my insecurity, I knew there were a couple of things I wanted to do that was against the expert recommendations: when we introduced solids, I would make them interesting for him. He wouldn’t be expected to eat bland food as a child or an adult, so why should I introduce him to boring and bland food?

He was basted for the final two months in utero with pumpkin spice; I ate a variety of foods and spices throughout my pregnancy; and expanded my foods to what I had to avoid during pregnancy while breastfeeding. All of this impacted his palate before he tasted his first solid food and I knew the research that backed this up. Up to this point in his life, he didn’t consume bland, flavorless food. Everything had spice and strong flavors so I couldn’t expect him to be excited over what was effectively gruel.

Doing some more research, I decided to do the following immediately when I introduced the rice cereal: add in peanut butter, cinnamon, and breastmilk. I made sure the food was thin enough so he wouldn’t choke on it, but it was important that I start the process of getting him used to peanut butter in a safe manner. I didn’t want him to have a peanut butter allergy and because neither Ash nor myself had an allergy ourselves, I was confident it would go well.

It did. And he loved it. He got so used to the peanut butter that on the mornings I forgot to put it in or didn’t have any he was more reluctant to eat.

I also wanted to add cinnamon because it was something I knew I would enjoy if I was eating warm rice cereal. I did all of these additions to his first meal with the understanding that if he reacted badly in any way: breakouts, coughing, diaper issues, etc. I would stop immediately. I just wanted to see if he would enjoy the process of eating solids considering all the foods I ate while pregnant and breastfeeding.

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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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Healthy Eating Reset

It’s been several months since my last diet reset, so it is time for a small one to refocus my eating habits. I’ve behaved myself these last four months with a few slip-ups here and there. Surprisingly, no major lapses into unhealthy eating. Just an occasional meal every few weeks or so.

I ate the occasional mammal but stuck close to fish and chicken for my meat-based proteins. Dairy started to trickle in which is not good, though I will cover that in more detail in Friday’s post. Because I am focusing on wellness this month, I want to do a minor three-day reset where I watch my eating habits a little more closely and recommit to eating healthy.

This reset won’t be as serious as the last one and because it’s only three days, it shouldn’t be boring, nor will I feel hungry throughout the three days.

Eating Habits During this Reset

This won’t be a strict “track everything I consume” sort of reset, but a “this is what I will avoid and make do with what’s left.”  Hopefully, it will stay interesting because of that. Nothing sucks more than kick-starting healthy eating with boring dishes and feeling super hungry.

What this reset will entail:

  • Plant-based, no animal products of any kind
  • No sugar substitutes, this includes maple syrup or honey
  • No salt, but plenty of other spices
  • No gluten
  • No caffeine beyond green tea

Three days is not enough time to fully reset bodily cravings but meant as a way to give my body a 72-hour break from problematic foods.

For instance: I am a salt lover. I got that from my mother.

Salt is a complicated issue when it comes to healthier eating. Salt is good for you, but in excess, it can be problematic. I don’t eat a lot of junk food, but when I sit down to eat I will add a lot of salt to the dish throughout the meal. Beginning the process of lowering my need for salt will be good for me because I am worried I consume salt in excess.

I also find that while I may have cut sugarcane out of my diet, I still find other ways to satisfy my sweet tooth: honey, maple syrup, and coconut sugar are all alternatives that don’t leave me feeling bad. Returning to eating fruits as a means to satisfy my sweet tooth will be a good thing and lowering my desire for sweets overall. I don’t plan to cut these alternative sweeteners out of my diet, but to lower my need for them.

Exercise Habits During this Reset

Because I am not doing an extensive reset I am not going alter my exercise habits as much as I did in January.

I will probably do a gentle yoga flow today and Friday but my normal 45-minute run tomorrow. If I find that’s too strenuous, then I will just turn it into a 45-minute walk.

I don’t anticipate this being an extremely note-worthy reset, so I probably won’t reflect back on it anytime soon. I will be doing a run-down of my current health conditions on Friday and may include some final thoughts or feelings about this reset at the end of the post.

If anyone is thinking about beginning a healthier eating routine, doing a slight reset like this is a great way to get started. It’s quick, easy, and isn’t super oppressive. It’s a fantastic way to dip a toe into the healthier eating pond without feeling overwhelmed.


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