Fall Traditions: A Trip to the Apple Orchard

It would not be right to let Fall pass without a trip to the local apple orchard. Ever since my kids were little, we would head out on a nice fall day, purchase a bag for our apples and walk through the orchard in search of the best trees.

We always sampled the apples first, because we wanted to know what kind we were getting. Empires, Galas, Macintosh, Cortland, Pink Lady, Yellow Delicious, Granny Smith each has their own distinct flavor. Some are sweet, others are tart; some are better for baking, others keep fresh longer and we can still enjoy them a month later.  We usually found a favorite to load up on, but we always mixed in several other varieties, depending on what was available.

At first, we looked for the trees with lower branches that the kids could easily access and as they got older, they liked the challenge of reaching the top ones with an apple picker- a long pole with a grip on the end. The grip would loosen the apple and release it into the bag hanging from the pole. They enjoyed seeing if they could catch more than one at a time.

Once we had picked our fill, we would head over to the farm house where we could purchase hot apple cider and cider donuts. We would take our snack and sit at a picnic table near the petting farm. When the kids were little, they got a thrill feeding kibble to the sheep and goats. Afterwards, we would head home where I would make applesauce and apple pie with our surplus. There is nothing like a crisp apple you have picked yourself for lunch!

This year our trip was considerably shortened and more focused on the purpose of picking apples. We had time restrictions which did not allow us to wait in the long queue for our cider donuts, and the kids were no longer interested in petting the animals. Regardless, I know the kids felt it was a tradition they wanted to do.  Establishing traditions is an important job of a parent. Traditions create a sense of continuity and calmness in today’s busy and often unpredictable lifestyle. Even though I could not say we wandered aimlessly among the trees since we did have an ultimate goal, we did not have a step by step plan to follow and could randomly choose where to go, depending on how full the trees looked or how the apples tasted. Traditions also are a way of learning about life and it’s lessons.

The kids worked together to choose the trees and sample the flavors (respect). They were also assigned the task of transporting the bag (responsibility). It took both of them to carry it, balancing the weight of the apples between them (cooperation).  They had to deal with the mishap of a handle breaking while the apples poured onto the ground (problem solving). The unexpected happens, we pick up our apples and carry on. It’s what happens in life.

Family traditions give us a chance to step back and think-  this is what is important, this is what really matters. Traditions can be passed on from generation to generation and hold real meaning. My parents took me and my sisters to the apple orchard every year for a similar family bonding activity. I have fond memories of dad lifting me on his shoulders to reach the highest apples or of helping grandma peel the apples to bake in a homemade pie. The memories are so special to me, that now I have passed this seasonal ritual on to my own children. And if we have apple pie as a reward for our efforts, well that isn’t half bad!

Advertisements

Days 5 & 6- Istanbul: Reflections on food and faith

We docked in Istanbul this afternoon, sailing into the port which proudly sported the Turkish Star and Crescent. We had great views of the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia from our starboard side verandah.  Amy had a friend who lived in Istanbul. We were not able to meet up with her, but she had made a dinner reservation for us and we were looking forward to a real Turkish meal. We had some time to spare before dinner though and most of us wished to wander around the city. Only Hillary and Kate stayed behind as they were a bit jet-lagged and wanted to save their energy for our big shore excursion tomorrow.

Everyone else headed over the bridge that crossed the Bosphorus. The walkways were loaded with fishermen trying to pull in something big enough for dinner. The women were dressed in a variety of styles- ranging from jeans and tank tops to full burkas. I guess I neededn’t have stuffed a scarf in my bag since we were not going to the mosque today.

We reached the Spice Market- a very traditional building with exquisite mosaic designs, and walked inside to see the most amazing arrangements of a different kind. There were fresh spices of every color, stacked in open bins, with their fragrant aromas spilling out into the air! It was hard to resist buying bags full of every imaginable flavor. My husband was smart not to give me any of the Turkish Lira he had exchanged. So all I could do was take it in with my camera and breathe the air.

We caught a glimpse of the neighborhood where our dinner reservation was- up the hill by the Galata Tower. When Amy and I realized how steep the walk would be, we became concerned that Hillary would have trouble because of her knee. We knew the kids could manage just fine and Susan, who had been a good walker all her life, was getting stronger every day. We decided Susan & I would walk up to the restaurant with Megan and David while Amy and Mike went back to the ship to collect Hillary and Kate and hail a cab to dinner. We were starting to realize how cumbersome a group we were and that it would be impossible to fit everyone in 1 car anyway. Fortunately, we had a van reserved for our tour tomorrow.

It took about 40 minutes to regroup outside of Kiva, but when we went in our table was ready. We had a prime spot for 8 by the open area looking out on the Galata square. It was the first night of Ramadan and the restaurant was empty at 7:00. The owner was so friendly and willing to talk to us about the choices. He decided to give us a special treat since we were so interested in the local delicacies. He had his staff prepare about a dozen dishes in smaller portions that we could all sample from. These included black-eyed pea and spinach salad, a seaweed salad, zucchini casserole, mushrooms in sauce, shrimp skewers, chicken curry and several flavors of rice. Needless to say, David was able to enjoy almost everything. He turned down the chicken, but loved the shrimp, and was excited about all the vegetables and rice dishes. Kate was very adventurous and even tried a taste of the seaweed!

It was not until after 8pm that the locals started coming in to break their fast. By the time we were finished, the place was packed. Again, it was a mix of secular and orthodox attire. It made me realize that Islam is similar to all other religions in that way. You have control over how strictly you follow the rules and traditions. I myself only attend church on Christmas Eve. My husband no longer fasts on Yom Kippur. And while our children benefit from the holiday traditions of both faiths they have never been forced to go to Sunday School. As our tour guide told us the next day, she was conducting her job-including a lunch break- just like 60% of the other Muslims in the city. She planned to eat a special dinner with her parents as part of their tradition, but other than that she didn’t practice regularly.

This all got me thinking about why the U.S. has such misperception about Muslims. Have we become so paranoid about terrorists that we have classified all Muslims as such? In reality, Islam is a very tolerant religion. It was founded on the practice of allowing other faiths to practice in exchange for a “jitzah”- a tax on non-Muslims which granted them religious freedom.  Our fear has blinded us as to how similar we really are. There are extreme groups within any religious or political organization whose voices somehow carry more weight than those of the more secular masses. I am just glad that our family got to see first hand how these Turkish people lived and how friendly and welcoming they were. It was a great opportunity for us all to form (or reform) our own perceptions.

As we walked back to our ship that night, we looked at the colorful lights illuminating the mosques and heard the final call to prayer. How fortunate we were to be able to observe such a wonderful blend of new and old religious celebration.  

Day 4- At Sea- To Eat or Not to Eat

Today we are sailing from Split all the way around Greece, up through the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus River- the location of many battles over the centuries- to Istanbul. As it turns out, we had to face our own battles- based on food. First of all, as I previously mentioned, there were too many tasty treats readily available. We tried to keep an eye on the kids in order to prevent them from gorging on sweets, but it seemed like we were always saying “No”.

With three adults monitoring the situation, we slowly recognized how often this was happening and began to feel terrible. Wasn’t this cruise supposed to give them independence and personal responsibility? We became very distressed with ourselves. How can we be responsible for their eating habits without giving them all these limits? In the end we decided the reasonable thing to do was set some general guidelines on what to eat and how often, and hope they had more self-control than most children. This strategy may have given them 10 days of excessive eating, but it was better than fighting over the issue every day.

In contrast, Susan who was underweight due to a shattering life change (mentioned earlier), was trying to put on a few pounds. She needed to learn some “bad” habits. She added croutons, nuts, olives and eggs to her salads, ate whole sandwiches instead of open-faced, and threw some chips or fries on the side. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds though. Her appetite had severely dropped and she was only able to eat small portions at a time. It probably didn’t help to keep checking in at the gym to see if she was putting on any weight. We made a plan for her to always eat with someone for company and to limit how often she was checking her progress.

More Food for Thought

When we went to dinner tonight, we had a huge private table for 8. It was so wonderful to all be together and talk about our day. We shared our favorite shore adventures so far, the funniest things that had happened (for Kate, Amy and myself this was the pepper shaker story, which I’ll save for another time), or a report on the ping-pong matches of the day.  This tradition of sharing while eating as a family has always been important to me- a value instilled when I was growing up.

Ever since I was a girl, dinner has been more about socialization than actual eating. It was a family gathering time- a place to catch up with each other and share our day. My parents made this time an important family value and I continue to carry on this principle in my own home. Ever since my kids were little, I have enforced the 10 minute rule. This meant you must sit at the table for at least 10 minutes before you may be excused (remember when kids are little, 10 min is an eternity). As they have gotten older, we rarely have to enforce this rule unless someone is in a surly teenage mood.

Obviously on this cruise, our dinners lasted over an hour and we had plenty of time to talk. The thing that really impressed me though, was the variety of foods the kids were willing to try- watermelon soup, stuffed mushrooms and even tuna tartare. They may not have liked them all, but some were surprisingly delicious. I was just proud of them for trying.

When Food Choices Backfire

Sometimes, trying new things can backfire, though. On this night, David decided to be adventurous and order the roasted quail.  He took a few bites of it and then recognized that his dinner had once been a real bird- similar in size to the pigeons he loved in Venice. He politely excused himself from the table, saying he didn’t feel well. When I went to check on him later, he was very upset. He declared he was never eating animals again.

David is a very compassionate person and when he makes a decision on a principle it is very difficult to dissuade him. I tried to be supportive, figuring it would only last a few days (I was so wrong and this became a concern as time went on). Do you know how hard it is to support your child when you are concerned that their decisions will have a negative effect on him? I have certainly done enough research on healthy eating habits to know vegetarianism can be very beneficial if done correctly. There were multiple vegetarian options on the cruise menus so I was not concerned about what he could find to eat, but Mike and I did convince him to continue to eat fish as a source of fat and protein. For the remainder of the cruise, David declared himself a Pescatarian and enjoyed all the fruit, vegetables and sushi he could possibly eat.

Day 2- Part B Dilemmas of a Responsible Parent

After lunch, Megan, David and Kate explored the ship. They discovered the ping-pong tables, swimming pools, the basketball court and the Crow’s Nest. By the time they came back to the room, David had broken off his id bracelet, claiming he was almost 13 and shouldn’t have to wear it.So what is a responsible aunt suppose to do when Kate declared she wanted her’s off too?

At first I tried to explain it was for her own safety. I told her if David had his off, she could still roam the ship with him and no one would care. I did trust David. He has a good sense of caution while being confident enough to try new things. However, here I was in the Mediterranean with my sister’s child who I perhaps felt over-protective of, (but you can understand why). So I felt completely torn between what was best for them both- safety or independence?

As it turned out, no one really ever checked their bracelets. The ship was very secure and any time we exited, someone asked if the minors were accompanied by us. Kate tried to follow the rules about wearing the bracelet, but I could see that it was very uncomfortable- too tight and with a long tag hanging off. In the end, she managed to break it off when no one was watching, and that was the end of it.

Amy’s Anticipated Arrival

As the evening approached, everyone became more excited for Amy’s arrival. She had been travelling all day from the west coast of Canada. The last time we had seen her was at Christmas. There had been several family gatherings since then, usually on weekends, but Amy lived too far away for such spontaneity.

Amy and her husband loved their jobs and their location, except for the fact that all of their family members were on the east coast. Having no children of her own, Amy treasured her nieces and nephews and was looking forward to this extended visit as a way to bond with them even more closely.

Hillary (Amy’s & my mother)  was beginning to appear anxious. All mothers worry about their children and Hillary was no exception. She was even more excited than I to have her family together and was already planning special activities with each one. I finally convinced her to take a walk on the promenade deck so we could get some fresh air and take our mind off the wait. It was relaxing to stroll around the ship and take in the views of Venice and the vaporetto action on the sea.

On the way back, we stopped in my suite to see what the kids were up to. We found them hanging out on the couch with some fruit salad, french fries and Fanta. Obviously they had wasted no time ordering room service. At least they made one healthy food choice.

Mike was sitting out on the verandah. When I stepped out to join him, my mouth dropped open and I blinked my eyes in disbelief. My surprise turned into pure joy as I stretched my arms out, shouting “Amy!” and ran around the table to embrace my weary but equally happy sister, who had just arrived and was sitting in the lounge chair. Hillary was four steps behind me and soon all three of us were entwined in a group hug.

Love is a powerful magnet to draw people together. Coming from 5 states or provinces, in small groups or alone, for the sole purpose of a vacation shows a strong committment to what it means to be a family. Over the course of this cruise we intended to take every opportunity to strengthen our ties and replenish our stores of love for when we would be apart again.

Cancelling Netflix: A Lesson for my Kids

Yesterday I made the decision to cancel Netflix. I have loved receiving those red envelopes for the last 6 years, but, as you probably heard they raised their rates an outrageous amount and I was mad. Before I made the decision, I discussed it with my family. My husband and I rarely sit down to watch movies, so he had no great attachment. The kids were another story, however.
    They not only enjoy ordering the dvds, they take advantage of the instant streaming of tv shows too. My son has probably watched every episode of South Park and my daughter followed all of Glee. Needless to say, they were not happy.
    Being a teacher at heart, I had to turn this into a life lesson. I didn’t go into the comparison of today’s media versus the “good old days”. You know, the days when we all sat around the one family tv to watch the much anticipated annual run of The Sound of Music, The Wizard of Oz or The Great Pumpkin. If you missed it, it wouldn’t be on again until next year. Nothing like the instant gratification of today’s media.

Instead, I talked to them about principles and “putting your money where your mouth is”. Teenagers are at the age where their money starts to mean something. The amount they spend on clothes, make up, electronics and entertainment gives them more power than they realize, as long as they don’t get roped in by bad deals. I showed them the amount of money we would be charged above our current plan and we discussed what we could get for that amount instead. We figured out other ways to get free movies and shows streamed to our tv and checked out the supply of dvds at the library. With the money we saved, we could probably even get a few pay per views each month.

They still weren’t thrilled with the decision to drop Netflix, but at least they understood the reasons why and that we had the right to explore other options. As for Netflix, I hope this doesn’t turn out to be a lesson in bad business, but I’m sure my kids will be checking out the stories online to see if our form of protest had any impact. And that would be a better real life lesson than anything they learned in their history books.