A 5K, a Wedding, and Two Picnics

Friday afternoon as I returned to work after my lunch break, I passed a friend in the parking lot who said, “I’m so glad it’s finally Friday!”  Automatically I replied, “Oh yeah, me too!”  Then I thought, Well, when you work at a church, Friday is often like Sunday: it’s the day before everything gets crazy!  Now that it’s Monday morning, I can breathe and relax. 🙂

This weekend we kicked off the new school year in the life of the church with a bunch of awesome events that definitely kept me busy!  Saturday morning our church, in partnership with another church down the road, hosted a 5K.  We encouraged the youth group folks not only to run, but to dress up in costumes.  I couldn’t find a great costume, but I did find these fantastic purple “skapris” (oh yes, “skapris” are a skirt/capri combo) plus a purple sequin headband in the kids section at Target.  All I’m saying is that I looked pretty good. 😉

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I ran with my sweet high school friend Gena, and we rocked it!  I won my age group, and Gena placed second in hers (with a lot more competition.)  We had over 200 participants and raised a lot of money that is being donated to a couple local charities!!

Saturday afternoon, on our way to a wedding in Virginia Beach, we made a stop to visit our good friend Allison.  We ate lunch, watched the Virginia Tech football game, and so enjoyed catching up and laughing!

On Saturday evening we attended the wedding of my good friend and coworker Evan and his beautiful bride Kristina.  The day was perfect, the decorations and details were adorable, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen two people so excited to get married!  It was a sweet, joyful celebration.

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Just bein’ us

It was close to 1 AM when we arrived home from the wedding, and I had to be up pretty early for church, er, later that morning.  Rather than our usual three services (two traditional and one contemporary), we had one huge, blended service to bring everyone together as we kicked off the school year.  Even though I was operating on insufficient sleep, the morning was awesome!  I don’t know  how many people were there, but the sanctuary was PACKED, and we had overflow in our Welcome Center.  Some chose to sit on the floor with their kids.  The atmosphere was just relaxed and genuine as everyone came together as one community to worship God!

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After the service we had a picnic lunch, and people spread out all over the church grounds–inside and out–to share a meal with friends!

And because one picnic on a Sunday is never enough, that evening we had a youth ministry picnic at a local park to kick off the school year and welcome our new families.  I was unable to do a headcount, but I estimate we had 150-175 people (youth, parents, and siblings).  I felt a little bit overwhelmed…in a good way.  🙂

I am most definitely an introvert, so being in a crowd like this drains my energy.  As soon as everyone had eaten, I’d finished speaking, and we started to clean up, I was ready to lie down on a picnic table and sleep.  Hah!  It was awesome, though, and I am so excited to see what’s in store this year!

As great as the weekend was, I’m so glad it’s finally Monday!! (…aren’t you?  ;-))

What was the highlight of your weekend?

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Our Fall Vegetable Garden and Reflections on the Summer Growing Season

This week we said goodbye to our beloved tomato plants.  Some of the other summer plants had withered away prior to this, and some are still growing and producing, but the loss of the tomatoes felt significant.  Perhaps it’s because when you think of growing vegetables in the summer, tomatoes come to mind first.  Or perhaps it’s because we nurtured them from seeds, turned our bathroom into a greenhouse to give them the best chance possible, and then watched them grow into 8-ft Lycopene-producing power houses.

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All I know for sure is that Andrew and I both felt a little bit sad to put what remained in the compost pile.  (Yeah, I know.  We have a compost pile and feel sad over the death of plants.  I promise we are not these people.  Like seriously… we are not part of that group.)

What feels like the end of the season, however, prompted me to reflect on our first real attempt at gardening, and I’d like to pass along a few tidbits we gleaned along the way.

Plants that thrived: tomatoes (cherry and slicing), peppers (bell, cayenne, and pimento), green beans, yellow squash, zucchini, tomatillos

Plants that didn’t thrive: broccoli and Swiss chard (better as fall plants… oops!), cucumber, cantaloupe, and pumpkin (all eventually got some kind of disease and the vines looked terrible), watermelon (still growing…Andrew disagrees), carrots and beets (all grew as miniature versions of what they should be).

Tips for Next Year’s Garden Rookie (From This Year’s Garden Rookie) :

Vegetables that produce continually and quickly are the most fun–cherry tomatoes, green beans, tomatillos, and squash were among our favorites.  We lost interest in the melons and pumpkins, which take up a lot of space in the garden, and the reward (if any) takes a long time.  

Grow vegetables that you’ll actually eat–we thought it would be fun to grow cayenne peppers, but we have yet to eat any.  We now have dozens drying in our dining room because we don’t know what to do with them other than dry and crush them into what will probably be a lifetime supply of pepper flakes.

Don’t be afraid to prune and thin–when our tomatoes and peppers were little sprouts living in the bathroom greenhouse, we were so thrilled to watch them grow that we couldn’t bear to thin them to one plant per square inch (see photo above).  When the time came to plant them outside, we practically had to do surgery to get the roots apart without damaging the plants.  And I think we have pruning to thank for our huge tomato plants and fruits.  Definitely cut off leaves and branches that look bad, but cutting off a few healthy ones as well helps the plant grow stronger and the fruit grow bigger.

Cage plants that have the potential to be tall before they are actually tall–it may look silly (again, see photo above :)), but if you don’t, they will shoot up and bend over before you know what happened.  

I’m sure there’s more, but those are the tips that come to mind as ones you might not find if you Googled, “tips for first time gardeners.”

Additionally, I’m pleased to present to you our first fall garden:

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(The forest on the left is the pepper plants still going strong!)

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Butternut and acorn squash, broccoli, cauliflower, red cabbage, Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts, sweet peas, kale, chives, and lettuce

So, as much as we’re going to miss having these guys around:

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…we are pretty stoked for the new recruits. 😀

What thrived/didn’t thrive in your summer garden?
Are you planting anything this fall?

Weekend Backpacking: The Priest and Spy Rock

On Saturday Andrew and I ventured into the mountains for a couple of days of backpacking and camping.  The original plan was to car camp–set up our tent beside the car, which we could then use as a base to store our stuff while we slept or hiked.  At the last minute we decided to make it more of a backpacking trip.  We parked our car in a gravel lot about half a mile from the Appalachian Trail and about 1.5 miles from where we camped, with the intention to still use it as a (less convenient) base, resupplying Sunday so we wouldn’t have to carry everything at once.

When we arrived Saturday afternoon we took what we needed for the night and started the ascent–the very steep ascent.  Here’s a map for reference (I’ve added red dots for your viewing convenience 😉 :

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From the parking area (marked “P”) we hiked to the AT (marked “i”).  From this point on, I will refer to that stretch as, “the half mile of doom”.  It’s a steep, dreadful dirt road that is tough with nothing on your back; add a 20-something-lb pack, and I started questioning my physical fitness levels.  From there we hiked east on the AT to the Priest, which provided little relief in terms of incline, and finally arrived at our campsite (the red dot near the shelter).

We set up camp, met a nice family from very rural Virginia, and made dinner.

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If we’d had a few more days to plan for backpacking, we would have been more intentional about bringing a lightweight pot/stove and dried food.  We didn’t though, and heavy dinner is the main reason we kept a few things in the car.  Before leaving we’d prepped dinner in a large zip-sealed bag and traveled with it in a cooler–soup with canned chicken, green beans, squash, mushrooms, peppers, cooked rice, black beans, and a bunch of spices.  We put the combination in the pot with water, heated, and enjoyed.  For a somewhat random mixture of canned foods (and a few from our garden), it actually tasted very good!  Who says you can’t eat well in the woods?

We slept–not particularly well, but not horribly either–and I woke around 6:00 AM when the smallest amount of light was coming through the tent walls.  I decided to pull myself out of the sleeping bag and try to catch the sunrise at the overlook less than half a mile away.  (Andrew decided  to keep sleeping :)).  Oh man, it was worth it:

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After enjoying God’s awesome creation and the stillness of the morning for a while, I made my way back to camp and waited patiently for Andrew to wake up.  On second thought, “patiently” might not be the right word;  as soon as I heard the faintest stirring sound, I unzipped the tent and demanded that he come outside and play :-D.  We ate breakfast, packed what we didn’t need for the day, and began the 1.5 mile hike back down to the car.

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Coffee and a French press;  it’s all about priorities, people

We dropped off a few items at the car, grabbed our day packs and pre-made lunches from the cooler, and reveled in the lightness of our loads compared to the overnight packs. 😀  Looking at the same map above, we tackled the half mile of doom from the parking lot to the AT, then hiked west to Spy Rock (well, we went a little beyond Spy Rock, but that was the highlight.)

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MmHmm.

 

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We ate lunch, hiked a bit more, then started walking back.  When we had roughly two miles left until we’d reach the car, it started raining.  Then it started pouring.  In case it’s unclear, two miles is a long way to hike in the rain.  We finally made it back to the parking lot and sat in the car to wait for the rain to stop.  At that point, I was done.  If it was necessary, I could tough out camping in the rain, but my dry bed sounded very appealing at that moment.  Andrew was not as sure, but eventually conceded that the rain was not likely to stop anytime soon and that would not make a great night of camping.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could just start the car and go at that point?  It sure would be… but wait!  Our tent and much of our gear was still at the top of the dang mountain.  So, with 10 miles under our belts and water sloshing in our shoes, we had to make the 1.5 mile hike back up the steep mountain, pack all our gear, and hike back down.  Oy.

We survived but were pretty whipped by the time we arrived home.  Thankfully we had a pre-made dinner in a bag that we just poured in a pot on the stove and heated. 🙂

Even with the rain, it was an awesome trip, and I don’t regret going.  I love those mountain views and the workout they require to view them (our legs were hurting so good the next day!)

How did you spend your long weekend?
Have you hiked Spy Rock or the Priest?