I don't even know where to start--the last few days have been a whirlwind. As I write, I'm eating the last piece of one of the most amazing cakes I've ever tasted. It's a German chocolate from a local bakery. Two layers of cake with a coconut frosting between them...but wait, there's more! Coconut frosting on top, too, of course. The side is covered in chocolate powder and then the top of the cake is covered in a layer of fudge. What's that you say? Fudge. If you leave it in the fridge as they suggest it stays hard like fudge. But if you leave it out on the counter it turns into a thick, oozing chocolate sludge.
We had horrible storms on Friday evening into Saturday morning which prevented my birthday bike ride until Sunday. In fact, it rained almost the entire 2 hour drive to the orchard on Saturday morning. We arrived not long after they opened to find a few cars in the parking area. It's super easy to find and ended up being a huge hit for every member of the family.
They have well-marked lines in the gravel and grass for where to pull in and plenty of signs, employees, and a fairly easy to understand operation. Pay for your ticket. Go through the hay gate. And the barnyard awaits. Really a huge, grassy area with the corn maze behind it. We opted to only pick apples instead of some of the activities and had minor regrets about that when we arrived back and the kids wanted to play.
There's a goat bridge. Yes, a goat bridge. Pony rides. Magic shows. Music. Later in the season, a pumpkin patch. Tractors towing little kid-sized vehicles. Apple guns. Giant props for photos. A market. Food. Pig races. And, of course, the highlight is a wagon ride to the apple trees. We weren't sure how the kids would do on the wagon...Cole's fear of new experiences and past attempts at taking rides on things, especially. But since it wasn't crowded, it was lowkey and relaxed so they climbed on without hesitation by the ride back.
We were there on the first day they're open and since it really is considered a fall activity there were only a handful of other families around. But we definitely got the impression that it gets way more crowded later in the season. Lots of staff sitting around waiting for the opportunity to do something. Lots of checkout lines and places to sit and clearly a much larger operation than we got a feel for.
The Gala apples were just beginning to ripen and we were pointed to the line of trees where we'd have best luck. Our observation was that the smallest, youngest trees had the reddest apples while the larger trees had larger-but-green apples still. Or, frequently, half the apple would be red but the side away from the sun still needed some time. But the kids walked around with an apple in each hand taking bites. And we fairly easily picked our two 1/2 peck bags. They're already applesauce in our fridge, in fact. Good flavor...not the best I've ever tasted, but more meaningful when you realize you picked it yourself.
The orchard picks numerous varieties of apple throughout the fall and some pears even. Check their website for full schedule, hours, prices, and more. Some of the local news stations have even done a couple stories on the history of the place and the current owners. All Seasons Orchard
I got a birthday tea kettle to use with my Softbrew for making coffee. Got a steak dinner yesterday. All in all, it was a pretty amazing birthday.
In other news, Cole did not ride the bus this morning like we had intended. The topic came up fairly naturally on Monday evening and he very politely asked to be dropped off by one of us, "please." So Kelly told the bus driver at 7:30am that we tried and would be driving him. The driver was nice and offered to try every day if we wanted. No thanks. We've decided to call and revisit the bus situation once the school year has settled in. Cole's having a great time at school and why ruin a good thing? His teacher suggests starting with bus rides home, those are easier. And, this morning, his teacher took him on an exploratory visit to one of the buses which had some nerves but went ok. There really are about equal pros and cons to the situation so we're neither upset nor happy about it. It's just what is working for us currently.
Also, I'm attending the Chicago Triathlon Club's monthly meeting this week with plans to possibly join. It's a panel on Ironman and deciding to jump in. Which is bittersweet, of course, since this weekend I'm supposed to be in Madison volunteering and securing my spot in the 2014 race. But I'm already getting excited about the possibilities for next year in selecting a different race (or races) and maybe making some new friends via being more social with my training.
So, this morning I selected a new activity for this weekend in lieu of being in Wisconsin...I'll be donning some bee netting and taking a tour of the Morton Arboretum bee hives including a sample of their honey. I'm pretty excited about that. Plus, tomorrow marks exactly one month until our trip without the kids.
We manage to stay busy...group ride with the cycle club tonight.