Sunday, October 16, 2011

Leaf Hunting

Last year, I had to forgo our annual trip to Northeast Iowa due to the fact that I didn't really want to go into labor at Pikes Peak.  Something about having a baby on the Effigy Mounds didn't sound that enticing, so at 40 weeks prego, we decided to hunt for apples at a little orchard in Denver, and check out the fall colors from our local Hartman Reserve.  It was fine and memorable, but I secretly missed our annual tradition of leaf hunting and wine tasting.

My family likes tradition, and our annual leaf hunting trip through the blacktops of Northeast Iowa has been part of our history for a long time.  I remember our very first trips, packing the gray Dodge Caravan for a week's stay instead of a day's, claiming our seat with the blankets and pillows from our beds.  Taylor was just tiny, and we sat together in the middle seat while Jordan sat in the back with earphones, listening to his Smashing Pumpkins CD.  Dad always took the 'long way,' but for this trip, we didn't mind.  I marked certain familiar landmarks with my very own point-and-shoot, and kept on the lookout for Amish families in their horse and buggies headed for Sunday church. 

The cute little bridge and park in Fairbank.  The 'giant' strawberry in Strawberry Point.  The school in the middle of nowhere (Starmont), and of course, the pink elephant in Marquette, signaling we had made it. 

We were there.  There for a day of the same familiar sights.  The lookout spot at Pike's Peak.  Apples at the orchard.  A Cannery stop for Mom and a cheap bottle of Black Velvet for Dad.  A picnic, a leaf pile, and an afternoon that always made this little girl feel blessed and content.

It seems simple, but these are just the memories and traditions I want to make for our kids.  Simple road trips away become adventures stored deep in a bank of memories.  And now that I'm a mom, it's my turn to start new and continue on the traditions that become the story of our family; to make them special memories for my own.  Because my friend from far away once said: "The story my kids will tell someday depends on me. I am writing their book, and I want their childhood chapters full of traditions and stories and memories of the comforts of home." 

So, last Sunday, we packed up the car with picnic blankets, apple dip, and a football, snuggled Cruz in tight, and headed North.  We drove and spotted the same landmarks I had many years before: the winery, Starks, and Pikes Peak, but found some new treasures as well.  And although Cruz is too little to remember the day himself, someday we will talk about it.  And someday, I hope he recalls these days and traditions with the same good feelings of seasons and family that I feel today.

Because there's just nothing better than family.

What will I tell him about our day?

...I will tell him it was the hottest day we've ever leaf-hunted.  A big sun, a clear sky, and near ninety!  Although a piece of me missed the feeling of scarves, blankets, and a cup of hot cocoa, short-sleeves were kind of nice just this once (let's not get too carried away, global warming)... 

...The trees were out to impress.  Some of the most gorgeous color I've ever seen.

...A stop for an old-fashioned chocolate shake at an interesting little shoppe in McGregor.  The place smelled funny and housed an inventory that ranged from wigs to old Playboys to children's books, but their chocolate shakes were the bomb.  I have a feeling this may be a new tradition in the making.


...The best cheese curds on this side of the border.  Old Man River may have made us wait for over an hour for our food, but, the cheese curds were worth it.  Cruz did pretty well at the restaurant.  Mom tied a napkin around his neck for a bib, and he drank some of our iced tea through a straw. 

...The cute little kids' toy store we found in Prairie du Chien while Beau and Dad stocked up on tax-free BV and Stella Rosa (aka, wine candy).  I loved that toy shop, not just for the fact that it was called 'The Monkey's Tale,' and stocked with lots and lots of sock monkey paraphernalia, but for the fact that inside, it seemed as if we had entered a little Willy Wonka world.  We all played with old-fashioned toys, lost track of time, and walked away with goodies for stockings and rainy afternoons.  

Now there's a view...


...Playing in the leaves.  Toward the end of our day's adventure, Cruz was growing awfully tired.  Despite the fact that we had only been at the park a few minutes, we were getting close to calling it a day.  I ran to the car to grab a bottle and returned to this...

...a little Peekaboo around the big Oaks and an open grass full of thick, crunchy leaves did the trick for Cruz.  He loved the leaves and splashed around the piles like a wild man.

One of my favorites from the day...

...and finally, a picnic, complete with apple dip and Honeycrisps, bagels and strawberry cream cheese, chips and Texas caviar, and graham crackers for Cruz Man.

...and look who we found!  Charly Grace was ready to play in the leaves, too! 

It was a great day, the kind of day we've dreamed of for years.  Simple seasons, full of traditions.  

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