Monday, September 26, 2005

Did You Ever See an Apple, Wearing a Bapple?

Okay, we did the annual apple picking trip Sunday. Last year (and it seems like only yesterday) we ended up at a find-the-apple apple orchard. There were no pony rides, no hay rides, no entertainment.

This year, we went for the gusto. We went to a major league orchard in New York state, as opposed to New York City, which of course has LOADS of apple orchards, but who wants to fight the traffic, y'know? So we went to a place in Warwick, NY. It has all the accoutrements, or should I say trappings, of a major league apple orchard--the ponies, the pumpkins, the "general store," the country singers. And of course, a 4,000-acre apple orchard.

I was thirsty when we left the house so I had a bottle of water on the way up. Then, in lieu of lunch, I had a Slim-Fast shake. On the way up to Warwick, we stopped and picked up Cara's friend Rita, and continued on. The water was working its way through my system. Then, we hit a little Renaissance Faire traffic. Which of course meant we ended up following a pickup truck whose license plate spelled ABNORMAL and had a skull hitch cover with eyes that lit up in red whenever the driver braked. Of course.

Before too long, (tell that to my bladder, which was now feeling the effects of the water and a shake), we pulled into the orchard. Only, I didn't realize that a) it was a 4,000-acre orchard, and b) there were multiple ways to get in the place. I just followed the line of cars. Just blindly followed the line of cars. Bad move. Especially when you need a restroom FIRST.

This orchard is different from any others we've been to. In fact, it's really the ONLY place in the tri-state area I've been where an SUV could actually come in handy. You drive your car through the orchard and park in whatever -- I don't know what it's called in an orchard -- a lane, an aisle -- that you want. Sadly, the car in front of us looked to be a '79 Datsun, and immediately bottomed out and then spun out on the gravel dirt drive. It churned up a dust storm Kansas would've been proud of.

Yeah, that's one thing about orchards, they're not paved. And when a rest room is needed, you can really FEEL the unpavedness of it all. Especially when the orchard just keeps GOING and GOING. About five minutes into it, Cara announced the strong possibility that she was going to barf. Ryan started yelling, "Open the windows, open the windows," and Rita told Cara to stick her head out just in case. After--seriously--20 minutes, we got to the other end of the orchard and that holy grail of a restroom.

The restroom was conveniently located in the entertainment area. Ryan wanted a pony ride. But first, there was the ol' timey singers to pass by. The singers were calling all kids to come up front for an apple version of hot potato. I said to Ry, "That kid up there looks like Donald (a boy he went to pre-K with)." The kid turned around and, sure enough, it WAS Donald. Up there in the country orchard. Ready to play hot apple. So Ry joins him and they're having a blast while I chat with Donald's mom. Within a couple of minutes, Cara and Rita ask when we're going to start picking apples. I'm like, "We came to this place for all the other stuff it has: the pony rides, the entertainment."

Cara: "You call this entertainment?!"

Rita: "It's what I call boredom."

And they're 10. That's why 16-year-olds are dropped off at the mall.

I told them they could go to the first row of apple trees where I could see them, but let Ryan continue with the apple fun. He and Donald got caught with the hot apple, and were ready for the pony ride, which was $5. That's right, FIVE DOLLARS. In the country. Where costs are lower than in Manhattan. But those country folk see our cars a' comin', and they squint their eyes and say, "City folk. Let's git 'em."

And WE'RE NOT EVEN LIVING IN A CITY. But people in areas like Warwick, NY or Sussex County, NJ consider anyone from outside their immediate proximity to be city folk, a.k.a., suckers.

So, I get Ryan a ticket, because this is going to be his FIRST EVER pony ride. Donald goes right before him. We moms have our cameras ready. And then the ride ends. In ONE go round the ring. Donald's mom asked, "It's one time around, because they only went around one time." "Yep. Once around," the country guy said. Donald's mom and I looked at each other like, "Holy @!!

I would have put up a fuss or gone back to the ticket window to get my money back, but Ryan was already trying to get over to Rita and Cara. Who had spent the last 20 minutes picking TWO apples.

The orchard kind of runs up a big hill, a very big hill, and the restrooms, general store, etc., are at the bottom of this hill. So, we start up the hill, with the kids picking as they're going. We pass people who had coolers, blankets, lawn chairs spread out around their cars. I heard the distinct clink of beer bottles. People were playing frisbee and soccer among the trees. We didn't know you're supposed to park your car and pick in the area around your vehicle. Nooo, not us. We were keepin' it real.

At one point, Rita's foot went into a ditch and she stood up with burrs all over her sweat pants. Cara went over to help clean her off, and she went down, twisting her ankle in the process. Which is a habit of hers at this point--see previous entries. Of course, Ryan had to help her, and he went down, too. All of them, covered in burrs, hobbling, and our bags were only half-filled.

Rita was a real sport and insisted on carrying her bag of apples. Ryan had long-since given me his, and Cara now was in too much pain to deal with hers. I told them to just keep picking to the end of the row, and then we'd head back downhill to the car. Well, by the end of the row, all three of them literally had their thumbs out in an effort to hitch a ride to the bottom from passing drivers. The people smiled like, "How cute. How funny." Which only made the three of them more frustrated. Rita decided enough was enough with carrying her apples, and gave me her bag. I condensed Ryan's and Cara's into one full bag, and we dodged cars, teenager apple fights and mysterious holes in the ground, and made it back to the car.

After buying our two bags of apples (paying roughly what you'd pay for dinner at a family restaurant), we were out of there. Only to pass a humble country crafter who was selling dolls in homemade outfits (you could almost hear her saying, "Come and get it, suckers!") Luckily 10-year-old girls aren't into dolls with crocheted gowns. We passed the woman and her dolls, only to hit traffic. Which Brownie the Bear, of the local fire department, took advantage of--by standing in the middle of the street hitting up the city folk for donations.

As we drove through, I told the crew, "You know, Dad and I looked at houses up here years ago."

Ryan: "Too bad you didn't get one. They have big yards."

Cara: "And we'd have a big house, too."

Rita: "And you could take advantage of all the city folk."

Yeeee ha.

--Catherine Schetting Salfino

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Feelin' mighty low

This past Sunday was probably the most low-key football Sunday ever. Probably because I was feeling pretty low -- with a stomach virus. Welcome to back-to-school time. When whatever germ is rolling around the classroom will be coming to your home soon.

Man! I spent Saturday in bed, feeling pretty much like who-did-it-and-ran. And the one thing about being too sick to move is, you end up watching commercials because you just can't be bothered changing the channel. One commercial started to stand out. It was for an insurance company, and I must have seen it five times--two guys on a roof with a rope tying them together. The one guy apparently needs to repair the siding, I'm guessing, and he's going to rappel down the side of the house while the weight of the other guy keeps him from plunging to the ground. He jumps, they both go flying off the roof, and one guy does a swan dive into a tree.

By the third time I saw it, I was thinking, "The one guy really looks like he's going into the tree." On the fourth viewing, I'm waiting to see him go into the tree again, thinking, "Is he REALLY going into the tree, or is he going behind it?" On the fifth viewing, I'm thinking, "Did they use dummies or CGI to make it look like the guy really went into the tree? Because it REALLY looks like he went into the tree."

And this is what happens when you're sick to your stomach. Your head aches, your back aches. Of course your stomach aches. The fever kicks in and then -- you get crazy thoughts going in your head about the making of insurance company commercials.

Normally, I never even watch TV before 9 p.m. And what I DO watch is TiVo'd, so I skip the commercials. Therefore, I submit the following theorem: A stomach virus was planted in our school district by the New York ad industry in a dastardly plot to get everyone so sick all they can do is mindlessly watch TV, and NOT change channels. (But seriously, it looked like a REAL GUY flying into a tree.)

So, Sunday afternoon, I was feeling a bit better, and I decided to take Cara to the high school track -- so SHE could run and get in shape for soccer. Nothing like pushing somebody else to exercise. I felt like a head coach. She gave me three laps and announced that it was too hot (is 86 degrees too hot -- when you're a kid!) and too muggy (I kind of thought it was residual illness that was making my breathing labored) to go any further. I told her to walk a lap to bring down her heart rate safely. She circled the team bench and crabbed, "Let's go!" Which led to my big lecture about health, exercise, and cooling down properly. To which she replied, "Turn up the air conditioning!"

Ryan, meanwhile had been at a buddy's house. I called the friend's house to say Cara would be coming over to walk him back home. The dad said he was about to take them all to a park to play soccer--and Cara was welcome. "I'll go!," she says. Enthusiastically! Huh!? She runs to their house but was back in five minutes, with Ryan.

"It's too gross out there to play soccer," he crabs.

"Can you believe him!? He doesn't want to play. You're crazy," Cara says to him, and takes off.

Cut to me, slackjawed, "...And I thought the insurance company musings were crazy."

...Week two...done!

--Catherine Schetting Salfino

Friday, September 16, 2005

Back In The Saddle Again

Well, you know NFL football season is upon us because I'm looking for fun things to do with the kids while the games are played for about 67 consecutive hours every weekend.

But, most interestingly -- as I found out this week -- the NFL and DirecTV offer a special package where viewers can watch a whole game in 20 minutes. It's just the plays--no color commentary, no sideline reactions, no huddles, NO COMMERCIALS. And the game boils down to 20 minutes. TWENTY MINUTES!!

Only men could dream up a way of turning a 20-minute game into a three-hour odyssey that somehow becomes a national pasttime involving enormous beer consumption, which leads to an endless barrage of beer commercials featuring lusty, scantily clad size-4 models who will run their fingers over the heads of leering jerks, pathetic dorks and bald, fat men in checkered shirts IF they're downing the right suds. Ah, but ain't that America?

Meanwhile, I spent Sunday doing that all-American thing with the kids--attending a food festival. In this case, an Italian food festival in Hoboken, NJ. ...In Frank Sinatra Park, baby.

I mistakenly parked farther away from the park than was necessary, so we ended up cutting through Stevens Institute of Technology, which, VERY surprisingly, has a really beautiful campus with fantastic views of Manhattan and the surrounding towns. I mean, you're walking through an urban neighborhood, and then you're surrounded by rolling green hills, Adirondack chairs, ivy-covered buildings. So we were strolling, and Cara and I were talking when Ryan, who pretty much keeps a running commentary going, became more insistent with whatever he was saying until we finally tuned in to hear him saying, "LOOK, a GROUNDHOG, a GROUNDHOG!" Sure enough, a chubby little groundhog was snuffling around not five feet from us. A groundhog lives in Hoboken. And he wasn't like a country groundhog, scampering off as soon as we came near. He was a city animal. We looked at him, he looked at us. He ran his paw over his head and said, "Yo, how YOU doin'?" Okay, that part I made up. But he DID hock a loogie and light up a Marlboro.

Anyway, we found the park, which is situated right next to the Hudson. What a setting. Sinatra would have loved it--the Hudson River at your feet, Manhattan in the background, sailboats gliding back and forth--and the smell of sausage & peppers and zeppoles in the air. Of course, Ryan got edgy with his food choice and went with pizza. Cara got a proscuitto and mozzarella sandwich --which is a great choice when you have braces--from the Michael's Salumeria stand. We know the owner so he also gave the kids free gelato. Ryan said he was too full to eat the gelato, so he let me have it. Until two seconds later, when he realized what he'd done, yelled that he was still hungry and took the whole thing back.

We watched grape stomping, listened to music, and the kids played some arcade games. Ryan could not BELIEVE he didn't win a prize at either of the games he played. I tried to explain the phrase, "That's how they get ya," but that only made it worse.

Since we'd been festivaling for a few hours at that point, I decided to pull the plug on the day. I got some "butterfly fries," french fries that look like long ribbons, for the walk back to the car. As we noshed on fries, Ryan scared me by almost getting hit by a driver who ignored the police barricades and drove at regular speed among about 100 pedestrians. We noshed some more, and then Ryan made a wild dash for an eight-inch opening in the railing that keeps kids like him out of the Hudson. We walked and noshed some more, and then Cara twisted her ankle on the edge of the sidewalk. Feeling nauseous from the combo of fries, near misses and whining, I chucked the fries and decided to settle my stomach with some Starbucks. Which, of course, didn't work because that stuff could chew through steel cables.

Man, I can't wait for next Sunday!

Catherine Schetting Salfino