Apples & Writing

Lately, I’ve been embracing my identity as a writer.  I currently live at home and work on my family’s farm, so writing and agriculture have been on my mind.  I’ve been learning that writing and farming are more similar than one would think.

My family’s business is apples.  In the spring, apple trees bud and blossom.  Alone, these flowers are beautiful and fragrant, but fleeting.  It takes external forces, namely bees, to preserve their beauty.  Once the flowers are pollinated, fruit sets in.  But that’s not the end.  It takes months and months of growing and care for the fruit to grow.  Even then, it’s not always ready when you think.

This process reminds me of writing.  As a writer, I have universes in my mind.  Thoughts, feelings, ideas, entire novel length stories exist between my ears.  Sometimes when I sit down to put these sentiments to words, I find myself unable to speak.  Like apple blossoms, bursts of inspiration alone aren’t enough.  It takes external forces–life experiences–to give the inspiration the depth and meaning it needs to bear fruit.  Even then, sometimes the words aren’t ready.  It takes months and months of bouncing around in the back of my mind to grow and take shape.

We have field trips at our orchard and one of the things my mom tells the kids is actually really important: Just because an apple is red doesn’t mean it’s ripe.

It’s the same with words.  Recently, I’ve found the need to write bubbling up in my spirit and bursting forth at unexpected moments.  But just because words are building at the tip of my toungue does not mean they are ready yet.  It doesn’t mean they’re ripe.  I’ve got an ever-growing list of post ideas, but not all of them feel quite right yet.

So I wait.  I mull over the words and scribble drafts.  I put down my pen and let the world around me pollinate my ideas.  I wake up in the morning, go to work, read books, spend time with friends, and wait.

When the time comes for the words to burst forth, I’ll be ready.

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Weekend Coffee Share: Best Apple Orchard in Minnesota

If we were having coffee, I would, right away, ask if you’ve heard the news.  Well… actually, if you’ve seen the news.  Because, oh boy, is it exciting!  One of my state’s top news networks does a “Best in Minnesota” feature and their most recent focus was Best Apple Orchard.  My family owns an apple orchard!  We found out about the contest a couple of weeks ago and, right away, launched a social media campaign to get everyone we know voting.  I kept the news off WordPress, but was fairly obnoxious with my Facebook posts.

Anyways, we WON the competition and can now say that Pleasant Valley Orchard is the best in Minnesota!

My family's apple orchard, taken at sunset last Saturday.
Panorama of our orchard, taken last weekend at sunset.

On Tuesday, a reporter and videographer from WCCO came out and shot footage for a story on our farm.  I took a class on visual journalism last year and watching them work was fascinating.  They clearly came with a vision for the story and, right as they popped out of their vehicle, got to work filming.  My entire family was there and we showed them all around our farm, telling them the history, and sharing stories.  We were all interviewed, which was fun.

If you’re interested in seeing the story, hop along to the WCCO website!  When it aired, we watched it three times in a row. It really is a lovely story–it captures the essence of who my family is, what we do, and where I come from.  My interview didn’t make the cut, but no tears were shed over that.  I’ll leave the spotlight to my parents and brothers.

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you that being the Best Apple Orchard in Minnesota also has negative consequences.  As soon as the story aired, we had a significant increase in traffic.  Friday had crowds like a slow Saturday and I worked for ten hours straight assembling bakery products, packing apples, and mowing as much as I could before the sun set.  Yesterday (Saturday), I worked in the store all day and now understand what it feels like to work retail on Black Friday.  It was the busiest day we have EVER had in the 23 years we have been open.  Working the cash register, I did nothing but smile and crunch numbers for eight hours straight.  We were short-staffed and, as a result, didn’t get lunch breaks.  Our bakery products were gone by three and we sold all of the 700 caramel apples that had been made for the weekend.  (Our baker had to work extra to make more.)

Before we opened, I prayed to Jesus and asked Him to make me an extrovert for the day.  It didn’t work.  My brain was total mush by 2 PM and my stomach growled most of the day.  At one point mid-afternoon, I turned to my coworker and declared, “I want to die.”

Nevertheless, I’m still alive and so are my parents.  It took a couple of hours to get all the post-closing chores done, but when they were, we went out for fancy steak dinner.  Because we deserved it.

If we were having coffee, I’d let you know that, even though exhausted, I was awake from 2:30-5 AM simply because my body was so wired from the day’s work.  Instead of rolling around for hours, I climbed out of bed, made a cup of hot cocoa, climbed back into bed, and watched Netflix.  I would have preferred sleeping, but Netflix is good too.

It’s now my day off.  THANK GOODNESS.  If I have my way, I’m spending the entire day in my pajamas, indulging in more Netflix, cleaning my room, and catching up on blogging goals.  The sad thing is, I’ll probably end up having to work.

Enough of my complaints.  I’m turning things over to you.  How has your week been?  What would you share over coffee?

This post is part of the Weekend Coffee Share link up at Part Time Monster.

Orchard Moments: The Open Sign is Out!

After two solid weeks of wiping, washing, digging, painting, picking, sorting, stacking, pricing, arranging, mowing, and so on, my family’s apple orchard is open for the season!

Now that we have customers everywhere and staff behind counters, my summer hermit ways are a thing of the past.  I enjoyed the solitude of working alone (minus those six hours deep cleaning the kitchen), but have missed seeing people.

We’ve got a wonderful crew of people on staff this year, from the retired men who pick apples to the high schoolers who wash them and the kind-hearted ladies who staff our store.  One of my old church friends bakes for us four days a week, which is an absolute treat.  It’s a pleasure to laugh and make jokes with someone that isn’t my parent or sibling!

Stop by this time next week for more about what it’s like to live on an apple orchard.

#WeekendCoffeeShare: It’s so good to see you.

If we were having coffee, the first thing you might notice is that I’m not actually drinking coffee.  I prefer tea.  The first thing I would tell you is let you know that I’ve been wanting to do this for weeks.  I’ve seen many of these posts from bloggers I follow for weeks upon weeks, but was never able to take time to do my own.  Until now.

So, friend.  I’m so glad to be with you right now.  Or, as Jane says in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

What is new in your life?  Maybe I should save those questions until the end.  In my enthusiasm, I’m getting ahead of myself.

If we were having coffee, I’d probably complain quite a bit about my back problems.  I pulled something a month ago at work and have been fighting the uphill battle to health ever since.  It’s better than it was–dosages of ibuprofen, icing it several times a day, and three visits to the chiropractor certainly helps.  Most days are now good ones and it has stopped keeping me up at night, but progress is still slow.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you all about yesterday’s canoeing adventure.  One of my camp friends came up from the cities and we canoed a ten-mile stretch of the St. Croix River.  In Minnesota, there are some hobbies that, because of the ever-changing seasons, you can only do a few times a year.  Canoeing is one of them.  I have been dying to get a canoe in the water for the past three months.  It wasn’t a very warm day, nor were the conditions good.  Amy and I battled wind and whitecaps the majority of the trip.  But it was wonderful.  There are few better things than being on the water, paddle in hand, with nowhere else to be.  At one point, we passed a man and his kids struggling to get un-stuck from a tree.  He looks over at us and goes, “You’re still smiling?  I lost mine a while ago.”  He was right–despite the fact that our arms felt like they were about to fall off, we were both still smiling.  It was exhausting, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat.  Sadly, I probably won’t set foot in a canoe until next summer.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that apple season is almost here.  I work on my family’s apple orchard and we are less than two weeks from opening day!  We spent a good deal of time this week indoors (due to rain) cleaning our main retail building.  I spent many hours scrubbing coolers, sweeping floors, and rubbing down cooking trays.  In addition, the apple harvest has begun!  My brother and I began picking the early varieties.  Our big cooler is now filled with several stacks of Redfree and State Fair apples.

I’m really excited for Fall.  It’s been four years since I’ve been around for a full season–and even then, I only worked weekends due to school and extra curricular commitments.  Summer has been wonderful, but our work crew has slowly dwindled to just my brother and I.  Fewer hands mean tasks take longer and the familiarity of siblings mean we don’t have as much to talk about.  When September 4 is here, all the fall employees will come.  There will be people selling in the store, high schoolers washing and sorting fruit in the back area, and a crew of bakers assembling pies and goodies in the kitchen.  It’ll be wonderful to have new people to talk to.

Okay, okay.  Enough about me.  Time to pass the talking-stick to you.  What would you share if we were having coffee?

This post is part of the Weekend Coffee Share link up at Part Time Monster

Deromanticizing apple orchards

When I tell people I grew up on an apple orchard, the first thing they always say to me is, “Wow, that sounds like such a Romantic childhood!”

For many people, one of Autumn’s biggest highlights is going to the apple orchard.  They flock in crowds, enjoying scenic views, colorful leaves, going on a hay ride, selecting a pumpkin from the pumpkin patch, eating baked goods, and (of course) picking apples.  It really is an ideal way to spend a sunny October day.

Photo taken from Facebook, courtesy of my mother.

What people fail to realize, though, is all the work that goes into running an apple orchard.  All they think about is how fun it is to take photos of their child picking an apple and how delicious that pie is going to be once it’s baked.  When you peel back the commercialized experience and actually think about things, orchards are a lot less Romantic than they appear.

There’s nothing Romantic about watching your dad wake up before the crack of dawn to put in a solid day of physical labor (picking, hauling, washing apples; covering things up to protect them from frost; feeding and caring for the petting zoo animals; tending the trees; covering up our strawberry fields, the list can really go on forever) only to go to bed at two in the morning.  He’s the hardest working person I know.  And, all day, he deals with customers who have no idea how much work he does pestering him with stupid questions, telling him how to run his farm (as if they know more than he does).

There’s nothing Romantic about spending summers hoeing strawberry fields, hauling brush, trimming root suckers, spreading fertilizer, thinning the apple trees, etc. for 40 hours a week.

There’s nothing Romantic about the fact that my mom hasn’t travelled beyond 15 minutes of our house for a month.

There’s nothing Romantic about finding $100 worth of pick-your-own apples sitting under a random tree because some customer didn’t realize how much they picked, didn’t want to pay, so just left the now-unsellable fruit sitting there.

There’s nothing Romantic about working in the store all day long, then spending your Saturday night and time off making caramel apples in your pajamas till 10:30 PM to prevent running out in the store the next day.

There’s nothing Romantic about your highly anticipated Mother/Daughter shopping day in the city being cancelled because she was needed at the orchard to watch over the staff.

There’s also nothing Romantic about watching all the crowds flocking to your home, the place you grew up, the place you spend your summers tending to and caring for, only to tramp all over it and stare at you like you’re out-of-place when you go for a walk.

Apple orchards are wonderful places, and I will forever be grateful for my upbringing.  It’s given me a unique, special childhood that I will always cherish.

My brothers and I a few weeks ago.

But, sometimes, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.