A week ago I had to fly to Houston for a very quick 24-hour work trip. I've been to Texas many times but never to Houston and it's always a little exciting to see a new place. Especially when you know you don't have to stay there long and home is just a sleep or two away. And the best part about going away - even if it's for such a short time - is you appreciate home that much more when you're away from it.
There aren't any pretty fall colors in Houston. Yout can't wear tall boots and leggings and long sweaters. It was 100 degrees when I was there. In October.
The night I flew home was at the end of a very long day. I was really tired. Admittedly more than just a little cranky. And I might have even shed some tears over the phone to my mom and dad in the Dallas airport as I waited for yet another delayed flight. "I don't know if I'm cut out for this. I don't know if I'm going to be good enough for this. I don't know if I can do this." This being a full time working and traveling mom. Now granted, it was mostly my exhaustion talking. I'd only been away from home for one day. I had successfully completed my first in-person interview resulting in the hiring of the candidate I liked best. Nothing bad had happened and I hadn't failed at anything. But I don't like flying. I don't like busy cities. I missed not only my kids but my home. And I was really tired. I got on that plane hoping to put my head into a book for the two hour flight. I had the window seat. My travel agent always gets me a window seat. And just before take-off, a 25-year old guy from west Texas (think... thick southern accent) sits down in the seat beside me. I could tell right away that my peaceful two hours of reading wasn't going to happen. He ordered alcohol from the flight attendant. Asked me a million questions right off the bat and told me his life story in the first five minutes. I saw pictures of his dog, his girlfriend, the fish he'd caught the other weekend and was forced to listen to Ice Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice through his phone. I was annoyed. And yet, he was the nicest guy I've ever talked to on an airplane before. And as the plane took off and we flew over the city of Dallas and all its bright lights in the very late dark of night, he leaned directly over my shoulder to get a view and whispered to me, "Honestly, this is the coolest thing I've ever done in my whole life."
Wow. Hello, perspective. I have lost track of how many times I've flown and all the places I've been and how many times I've flown over Dallas at night. It was this guy's first time in an airplane. To me, those city lights looked far from home. To him, those city lights looked beautiful. I found out he was flying to Iowa to be "second best man" in his best friend's wedding. His first flight of his life was from Texas to Iowa. And then he told me that he couldn't wait to land in our state. That he'd seen pictures of just how beautiful it was and that he just knew Iowans were his kind of people. Kind. Outdoorsy. Able to appreciate gravel roads and fishing and nature and a good qualify of life. He was so excited to experience Fall in the Midwest.
My annoyance washed away as I realized that this was probably just the type of conversation I needed to have in that very moment. I can't even fully put into words this conversation with this stranger. He wore a flannel shirt and baggy jeans and had a long, stringy ponytail. He admitted to being an alcoholic, asked me questions about Jesus and told me he'd only been to church three times but that he always felt better after he went and that maybe he should go more often.
There really isn't a moral to this story. It was one of those things where in the moment, what was happening to me seemed kind of surreal in the way that I just knew God was reaching down trying to mold me and grow me and teach me. Or maybe He was using me to teach someone else. Or maybe it was a little of both. And as our conversation slowed during the second half of the flight, and I had time to dig deeper into my new book, the irony was not lost on me. That the book I was trying to read on that plane, "Angels Walking," is about angels sent to walk amongst us disguised as real people. To teach us. To guide us. To bring perspective.
I never saw that guy in the airport after we got off the plane. He wasn't at baggage claim. He told me he hadn't packed anything but was going to stop at Wal Mart and pick up a toothbrush and shampoo once he landed. I hope he liked Iowa. I hope it was kind to him.
A week and a half ago we took a road trip to Cambridge, Iowa and Center Grove Orchard. I had seen pictures and social media talk about this mystery place and had a few friends who insisted that we needed to make the hour and 45 minute drive. Apparently it's been around for a long time and I'm not sure why we had never heard of it before, but since it was on my fall bucket list to try a new pumpkin patch this year, I was pretty excited to give it a try.
It didn't disappoint.
I was a little nervous when we first pulled up because the parking lot was packed and the entry line was long. It seems everyone decided to show up at the same time (after church), but the line moved quick and the crowd wasn't much of a problem for the remainder of the day. There was so much to see and do that there was plenty of room for the masses to spread out and for everyone to do their own thing.
The weather also decided to cooperate at the last minute - with rain in the forecast and a few sprinkles on the windshield on the way there - but it dried up just as we parked and eventually the sun came out enough to allow us to remove our jackets and even get a little warm from time to time.
There is so much that could be said about this place so I'll break it down to a top five list. As it turns out, we spent the whole day there and still didn't have enough time to see and do it all. (Or to try all the food and drinks. There were food stands and places to eat everywhere you looked!) We also didn't have time to take in all the shows. We caught a bit of a magic show but missed the pig races! ;)
1. The corn pool.
The largest corn pool I've ever seen with hay bales surrounding it providing seating for parents and grandparents and a launch point for kids to jump from. And while we were there, there was even a live band playing under the shelter providing barn dance music as a soundtrack to the fun. The boys jumped as high as they could from the hay bales, made corn angels, did summersaults, buried themselves with corn and even got a few kernels stuck in their teeth from time to time. ;) This was a hit and I could have watched them here the whole day.
2. The Black Gold slides. Apparently they updated them this year to make them longer and steeper. I wasn't sure how Brandon would respond once he actually got to the top, and I expected to see him come down on Cody's lap, but he absolutely loved it and didn't even mind waiting in a long line multiple times to do it over and over again throughout the day.
3. The hay maze. A smaller version of their larger corn maze, the kids loved this thing. Though Jaden did complete the whole maze initially, they ended up using it as more of a hay racing course. They preferred climbing on and jumping from the hay piles rather than actually walking through them. ;)
4. Jumping Pillows
They actually had two different sizes of jumping pillows - a smaller one for kids Brandon's size and a larger one with a height requirement that Jaden was just able to reach.
5. The animals. Especially the Billy Goat run.
I wanted to bring them home with me.
We ate lunch in the country store and all enjoyed a "Plowboy" sandwich. I would have liked to have had more time to do some actual shopping, as there were lots of homemade and novelty goodies to peruse through, but it's very hard to shop with boys. :)
More images from our day...
((I looked over at one point and saw my husband and son skipping along together.))