Monday, September 26, 2011

Apple Orchard

For years I've been wanting to take the kids to an apple orchard in the fall, but we'd never found the opportunity.  This year I was determined, so on a recommendation from a friend we headed out to Apple Jack Orchards about 40 minutes west of Minneapolis.  I'd been hoping for a rural setting, pick-your-own apples, fresh cider, games for the kids, wagons, hay rides, donuts, and boatloads of fresh apples.  I was not disappointed!  This orchard had all of charm I'd been hoping for; I just wish we lived close enough to make it an annual visit. 

 Playing on the hay bales.

 Some of the apples were past their peak time, but the kids didn't mind picking up the ground fall ones.

 Jake gets a boost from Dad.

 Such monkeys, all of them.  They had to go for the ones others hadn't been able to reach.

 It was post-card perfect. 

 The best part was tasting all the different varieties.  Honeycrisp was still our hands-down favorite.

 They had a serious corn maze.  Haley, Jake and I ventured in.  We got lost.  We climbed up on platforms and looked for ways out.  We got lost again.  We saw signs where you could text for directions.  We still were lost.  Finally we bush-whacked our way out one of the sides.  Walking back toward Rob and Alex, we noticed a sign that had fallen over near the entrance.  It said "Not for children" and "$10 per ticket."  Oops!  No wonder it was so hard!

 We always spend at least half a day at the Mall of America when we go to Minneapolis.  The kids get to ride at the amusement park and visit their favorite stores.  Jake was thrilled with a new Lego set; Haley had her dolls' hair styled at American Girl. 

IronGirl Duathlon - Why I Love To Race

Over the weekend I completed my second IronGirl Duathlon - it didn't turn out how I'd hoped, but I did finish...

As a (teeny tiny bit) of a control freak, I always stress about races because there are factors out of my control - the weather, injuries, illness, etc.  You train for months and work so hard, and it can all be undermined by a germ or a heat wave - or in my case this time - a weak bicycle chain.  I have to take some of the blame because we'd ordered a new bike on E-bay and it arrived a few days before the race.  I had just enough time to get it tuned up at the bicycle shop and take it for a short (2-mile!) test drive.  I wasn't very familiar with the shifting mechanism and so within 1/4 mile of starting the bike leg of the race, I managed to pop my chain off the gears.  Some nice bystanders helped me get it back on, while I stood by and tried not to panic as hundreds of women streamed past me.  I was so grateful and hopped back on to continue. 

A few miles later I started up a steep hill, went to down-shift, and snap, my chain broke and lay behind me on the pavement.  Without my chain, I instantly lost all of my momentum and while I tried to figure out what on earth had just happened, I forgot to clip out of my pedals and in (what felt like) slow motion, fell over onto the curb.  I was surprised, embarrassed, and very frustrated.  As I walked up the hill to the next intersection where race officials could radio help for me, I was passed - again - by hundreds of competitors who kept calling out "you can make it!"  They thought I was walking up the hill because it was so steep...I was very humbled and just slightly annoyed. According to race rules, I could continue to make progress by pushing my bike while waiting for the aid crew to come around.  They were currently on the other side of the course changing multiple flat tires.  No one knew if my chain was fixable or not, but I thought it was maybe worth a try.  I walked along in my cycling shoes for several miles, trying to not pay attention to all the riders zipping by.  At last the aid crew pulled up and - surprisingly - were able to fix my chain because the master link wasn't broken.  At that point I'd been walking for over 30 minutes and was so far behind where I wanted to be.  Close to tears, I considered giving up.

When I did the race several years ago my only goal had been to finish.  It had been a huge deal to do it at all and I'd finished near the back of the 1000-person pack.  This year, I was in much better shape and based on my training runs and rides, expected to shave more than 30 minutes off my finishing time and land in the top half of the finishers.  And now because of my chain I was near the back of the pack again.  I was about to call it quits and head to the finishing line when I thought of my kids and husband waiting for me there.  What would they think when I showed up sad and defeated?  I pictured the kids with their "Go Mom!" signs and imagined their cheers and smile.  And I realized I only had one option.  I climbed back on my bike, clipped in, and rode as fast as I could.  With the bike course being a loop that you complete twice, I'd already been lapped by the elite athletes, as well as the middle-of-the-pack competitors.  "On your left" became my mantra as I passed person after person.  I was making good time but broke a sweat every time I came to a hill, praying that the chain would hold.  I finished the first lap, made it up the big hill without a problem, and eventually - thankfully - finished the bike leg. 

I started the final 5K run feeling a little sad that I wouldn't meet my goal, but looked forward to telling my kids about how I hadn't given up.  I looked around and realized I was surrounded my women - amazing women - who were struggling to finish the race.  I could almost see myself from a few years back - feeling so unsure, out of my league, like the Big Slow Girl who was clearly laboring just to finish.  I wanted to shout to them all, "You are AMAZING!  Look at what you've accomplished!  You're almost there and you'll feel SO proud of yourself when you get there.  Keep putting one foot in front of the other and don't give up!"  I restrained myself from patting them all on the back, but thought about how far I had come both physically and mentally in the past few years.  As I neared the finish line and saw my kids waving and cheering, and my husband's worried face, I was so happy to have kept going.  Because of course it's not about finishing first - as lovely as that would be - but about pushing to the end when all you want to do is quit. What I hope our children will learn as they watch Rob and I race over the years, is that someone will always come in first, and someone has to come in last, but everyone has to complete every step of the race and it's an amazing accomplishment to set a goal and see it through.

P.S. - Despite my set-back, I still beat my time from my first race.  I guess there's always next year to set another P.R....

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Lake of the Woods

This weekend we drove up north a few hours to Lake of the Woods, Minnesota to attend the baptism of our dear friends' daughter.  We left early in the morning and enjoyed the beautiful drive through scenic fields and small towns.  I love exploring new areas and it was fun to see what the landscape was like in northern Minnesota - it was gorgeous, but I can only imagine how remote it feels in the winter. 

We were thrilled to share in Morgan's special day and get to spend the day with friends that we don't get to see nearly enough.  Their family was so generous to welcome us and include us in the festivities - a BIG thank you to them.

 All the cousins and friends were just too charming in their dresses and nice clothes, playing on the grass.

 "Flowers for you, Mama!"

 These girls have been friends for so long...they were inseparable all day.

We spent the afternoon at Lake of the Woods, where the weather was still nice enough to swim.
So gorgeous!

 Dave, King of the Hill.

One last chat before we had to leave for home.