Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Apple picking (10/4/09)

(Click on the pictures to see a bigger version)

Despite having lived in the Northeast all my life, I have never been apple picking. A classic Northeastern activity. We planned to go last year but were stricken with a nasty strep throat attack that hit the whole family.

This year Mims arranged a trip for all of us (Me, Ian, Mom, Mims, Tommy, James, and Sophia) to Honeypot Hill, in Stow MA. I had the rather na├»ve belief that we would go to someone’s little farm, pick some apples, have a picnic lunch, and go home. Sorta like picking out a Christmas tree.

The first clue that it was not going to be like that were the people directing traffic into the (multiple) parking areas. There were hundreds of people there to pick apples and generally enjoy themselves, and the whole thing was run with the efficiency and cheerful professionalism of Disney World. It was wild.

The first place we parked was at the ‘farm store’ which was located right next to the Barnyard Animals and the Hedge Maze. There was a man there directing traffic through the parking lot (and believe me, he was needed – parking lot drivers are crazy). He was about 70 years old and actually managed to get us all packed in while maintaining his cool AND his friendly smile. I was deeply appreciative. Five minutes spent in the parking lot and I was already wide-eyed and slightly panicked.

Despite having to serve hundreds of people, the farm store managed to maintain a homey country store feel. I bought some cider, some honey sticks, and some apple butter (YUM). They also had free samples of some of the apples and Oh. My. God. The honey crisp apples were amazing. I’ve been fantasizing about them ever since.

After we escaped the store we went to see the barnyard animals. They had a lot of goats who played on a two-story climbing structure. I don’t think they were mountain goats – all goats must just have a natural ability to climb. For 25 cents you could get a little hand full of feed which the goats would eat right out of your hand. The boys LOVED it.

They also had bunnies, piglets, and chickens – but the goats were the most impressive. After running around like crazies, we finally herded the boys back to the car and drove to the next parking lot for the actual apple picking.

Ian and I managed to get a prime parking spot and walked over to the ticket shed to buy our medium bag for apples and our tickets for the hay ride. The line moved quickly, but even so I was ready for a sit down after standing still for so long. It is odd but I can walk for miles or sit for long periods of time but standing still kills me. My back hurts, my legs hurt, and baby belly starts attracting immense amounts of gravity.

So after we got our stuff I herded Ian over to some picnic tables to have a sit down… where he immediately announced he had to go potty. So back we went to the porta potty near the ticket shed which (natch) was out of toilet paper.

This was Ian’s first experience with a porta potty and he was SO FUNNY. After locking us in the tiny space I turned around to see him staring into the potty with total horror. He looked up at me with his mouth and his eyes wide open and couldn’t say a word. He was speechless. The porta potty was actually very clean, but the fact that the potty didn’t flush and you could see everything… just sitting there… unflushed… it blew his mind.

After we did our business and escaped the porta potty the rest of the family had caught up. While Mims, Tommy, and James braved the porta potty we had a long discussion about which apples we wanted, where we needed to go to get them, and how we would get there.

Actually most of the discussion was spent staring at each other blankly, hoping someone would make an intelligent suggestion. The kids were hyper and the adults were dazed and confused. The parallels to a Disney trip were growing.

We finally decided to walk up to the nearest orchard and upon arriving immediately decided we didn’t want these apples – we wanted the ones that were farthest away. By that time Sophia was fast asleep in her stroller so Mims and Tommy decided to load me, Mom, and the boys on the hay ride while they walked to the correct orchard.

Again, I had naively thought the hay ride was going to be a fun little ride around a field somewhere, but actually it was a disguised mode of transportation. It made stops at the store and at each orchard where you could get off, do your stuff, get back on, and ride to the next area. Half a dozen hayride tractors and trailers circled the farm at all times in a farm version of the Disney monorail.

There was much hilarity maneuvering me down onto the hay bales that served as seats. By the time we had circled the ENTIRE farm to get to the correct orchard (it probably would have taken 5 minutes to walk cross-wise to the orchard) I was ready to hit Mims with a mean set of snake eyes for loading me onto this stupid ride. Fortunately for her she wasn’t there yet (they had stopped at the car) and I had to content myself with sitting on the grass and convincing the boys to eat some of their PB&J sandwiches and drink their juice boxes.

The day before it had rained heavily and the morning had been gray and cloudy. As we sat in the orchard the sky cleared and it became blue and beautiful. And hot! We really could not have asked for a better day, especially after such a wet beginning.

Mims, Tommy, and Sophia caught up to us and we finally moved on to our ultimate destination: the apple orchard!

Five minutes later, our bags were full. Huh.

We walked to the top of the orchard for the heck of it and picked some apples to munch on.

The sheer size of most of the apples was amazing. We found a few that would definitely take three people to finish a single apple. The rows were pretty well picked over, but there were a few areas that were roped off and the trees were completely laden with apples. I had been a little surprised that the apple trees were so short – not at all like the huge trees I had imagined. After I saw them buckling under the weight of all the apples I understood why.

After we filled our bags and munched some apples we made our way back to the hayride. I gave Mims and Mom the scare of their lives by throwing myself down the final hill and doing an extremely ungraceful somersault in an attempt to not land on my belly. I was fine except for a very muddy pair of pants and an extremely red face, but it took a while for Mom’s hair to stop standing on end.

The hayride back to the lot was a lot shorter and we decided to simply walk from there to the store instead of hoping back on the hay ride. I was confident about my walking ability at the beginning, but the hill did me in and I was VERY glad to reach the store and sit at the picnic tables.

Tommy brought their car back to the store lot and unloaded the picnic lunch. By that time it tasted like the best food we had ever had. Earlier we had bought cider to drink, but after eating three huge apples each we pretty much just looked at it sadly and thought about future bowel movements. Eventually we moved the cider to another table to act as bait for the gazillion yellow jackets that had homed in on us.

The boys ate (sorta) and ran around looking at the farm animals again. Then we hit the hedge maze. I am SO GLAD that Tommy went with us otherwise we may have never seen the boys again. Going through the maze was a series of stop and go as the boys ran ahead and Tommy made them stop and wait for me to puff my way to them.

I thought there would be tears when I accidentally belly-checked a young girl into the hedge as I came around a corner, but she ran off before I could gasp out my apologies. I did a lot of gasping. Whoever heard of a hedge maze built on the side of a hill?

We found the center finally, touched the flag pole, and then stop and go’d our way back to the entrance. I must have had a certain look in my eyes because Tommy sent me on ahead while he took the boys through the tunnel maze.

And then… finally… it was time to go home. Sadly, my car was still in the other lot. We gave hugs and kisses and saw the others on their way, and then Ian and I trekked back to the hay ride. No way was I attempting that hill again. In fact, on the way up the slight hill to the hay ride I made Ian let me lean on his shoulders. Passersby thought it was cute when he kept yelling “You’re breaking me!”

The hay ride was nice. Me and Ian had some snuggle time and joked with our fellow riders about various things we had done that day. We rode all the way to the lot and I thanked the parking gods that we had such a great spot.

And then we drove home.

Ian was fast asleep before the car left the lot.

So apple picking was an experience. Not the experience I was expecting but definitely fun. I think there was only one tearful breakdown (by one of the kids, not me), which was pretty good considering the length of time we were there and the hot sun. I’ll definitely go back next year. With a stroller. And a husband to carry the apples. *grin*

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