Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Wedding in Maryland

"We'll just run down to the old abandoned church and back. Should be about 1, 1.2 miles there, so we're looking at 2.4 miles, round trip." Trent said.

For years as we grew up, I affectionately referred to my cousin Trent as "Chub Roll". His brother Kyle and I were the fearless champions of all things good, whereas our younger brothers Shelby and Trent were the portly faces of all things evil. When we'd play war games,  Kyle and I were always the brave and true Americans, Trent and Shelby were the scheming Germans. 

But recently Trent has jumped onto the Fitness Train. He developed a taste for weight-lifting and exercise when he joined the National Guard. When he finished Basic, he returned 35 lbs lighter and with a gleam for fitness twinkling in his eye. 

I had joined a van load of Graber cousins and relatives and traveled into the mountains of Maryland for my cousin Melanie's wedding. We had arrived Thursday evening at a pristine chateau hidden back in the woods where we'd be rooming for the weekend. After less than an hour from our arrival, Trent decided it was high time we went on a run. After all, we had been on the road for 15 hours and our legs needed to stretch! He exclaimed.

I wasn't against the idea. Back at home, I occasionally go on runs. I have a route that I run that is 0.7 miles one way; 1.4 miles round-trip. Two miles would be a stretch, but I was up for the challenge. The weather was incredible. The sun had just set, it was around 71 degrees, and there was a slight breeze wafting through the pines. After stretching and limbering up, Trent and I took off down the smooth blacktop road. We hauled along at a decent pace, but it still took 11 minutes to get to the old church. We took a short break and did some push ups before heading back. "I'm feeling great!" Trent said. "My legs feel better now than when we started." I wasn't feeling too awful just yet, but my right leg was cramping so we took some time to stretch before resuming our run. On the return trip, I began to doubt we were going "only" two miles. The moonlit road seemed to stretch out before my eyes, doubling the distance between me and the sweet, sweet pond back at the cabin. My lungs began to burn, and I was acutely aware that I was running at 1,726 feet above sea level higher than I run at home. Trent calmly provided encouragement and advice as I wheezed like a locomotive with a siezed piston. "Use those long legs to lengthen your stride. It'll save you energy." "Inhale for two steps, exhale for two steps. Short breaths not only rob you of oxygen, but they rob you of energy." "You've got good form with your arms as you run. I had a friend that ran with his arms clenched at the chest. Very inefficient."

We ran back down the lane to the cabin, and it had taken us 15 minutes to make the return trip. My initial oxygen-deprived plan of action was to jump into the pond immediately and drink a few quarts of pond water. Trent cautioned that I should probably stretch and walk for a little bit, just so I don't cramp up and drown. He also mentioned that I should probably drink some water before going into the pond, lest I get tempted to drink questionable pond water. I thought nothing of Trent's mind-reading prowess at the time, but marveled at it later when I had regained my sanity.  I took his advice, meanwhile hoping that we had run more than two miles. Otherwise, I was seriously out of shape. "I miscalculated that distance. It was probably a mile and a half to the church, so we just ran 3 miles." Trent mused. THREE MILES! AN IMPROMPTU 5k?! A warm feeling of accomplishment accompanied the warm feeling of my leg muscles tightening up like banjo strings. After an extended period of flopping around like a wounded groundhog stretching, I took a relaxing dip in the pond. A mist was rising off the surface and the water felt refreshingly cool, but not icy cold like I had expected.

On Friday morning, my uncle Corby showed up with his four-wheeler and told us we could drive it around and explore if we'd like.

 "Careful," Grandpa cautioned "That thing can get up to 75 mph!" I wasn't about to let that claim go unverified, so I whipped the four-wheeler up to a face-blistering 70 mph before I ran out of straight road. I traced the route Trent and I had run the prior evening and used the odometer on the four-wheeler to see just how far we had run. Four miles. FOUR STANKIN' MILES. And we ran it in 26 minutes, or 6.5 minutes a mile. The only thing that prevented me from being completely tickled about the discovery was the dull ache in my legs. The trip by ATV was considerably shorter (it took me roughly 4 minutes) and far more pleasant, despite having various bugs assault my face at high speeds. I have determined that the Good Lord provided trusty four-wheelers to save us from unnecessary leg pains.

We spent the afternoon helping set up the outdoor reception for my cousin Melanie's wedding. Grandma Ruth bustled around helping with chairs and decorations and then jumped on a swing set. Seriously, I hope to grow up just like her someday. :) 

The wedding on Friday was splendid. The ceremony was elegant and simple, (which seems to be the wedding theme this decade) but it was also unique and charming. The pastor told a story about a man who bought his bride for eight cows to make her feel special. I found the tale to be extra pertinent because Nathan, the groom, works on a family dairy farm. His family had butchered a cow for the reception meal, so I determined that Melanie was bought for one cow, or thereabouts.

At the reception we were fed inordinate amounts of food. A massive meal, followed by chocolate shakes, cake, ice cream, tasty wafer straw things, and cheesecake pops. It was painfully delicious. 

I've been to a few weddings lately and I always remember to take photos of things after the wedding is over. This time, I remembered to snap a photo of the bride and groom. 

Melanie paused from making sure everyone received a cheesecake pop to take a photo. She's the best. 

We threw bird seed as Nathan and Melanie left. There was a considerable pile of seed on the church parking lot once we were finished. My cousin Ryan and I determined to return with firearms the following day to snipe crows. A whole murder of crows, because that's what a group of crows are called. 

Back at the cabin, my cousin Whitney kept ramming into the screen door. So grandma disappeared for a moment and came out with these: 

Grandma couldn't find scotch tape so she grabbed a few band aids to work as helpful warning signs. 

Aunt Jana, Whitney's mom, added to the notes when no one was looking. 

And we all laughed about it for the rest of the weekend. 

[Side note: all of you should buy my Aunt Jana's hilarious book, entitled "One of Those Days". It's a compilation of some of her "Mommy Diaries" articles and they're expertly, humorously written. Those of you who are allergic to comedic wit should probably steer clear of this book.]

On Saturday morning I received a text from Dad informing me that Mom was in the hospital due to carbon monoxide poisoning. She had been power washing out the basement with a gas engine pressure washer and felt extremely sick a few hours later. Dad ran her to the hospital and she quickly improved. We spent a lot of time praying for her and we were grateful when the doctor released her Saturday afternoon. 

Aunt Kris fed us a monstrous brunch on Saturday morning. Moments after finishing the wedding meal, I had declared I would no longer need food for July. But the brunch caused me to completely forget my declaration and I ate waffles and cereal and fruit like I had just stepped off the Mayflower with nothing but sawdust and shoe leather. 

After brunch, Ryan and I grabbed a .22 rifle, a BB gun, ammunition, and raced to the church to slay some birds of prey. We arrived to discover two chubby crows gorging on the piles of bird seed. We whipped into firing range with a whoop and the crows lazily flew into the nearby woods. So we set up a stakeout and waited for them to return. After fifteen minutes waiting on the birds, we left. Perhaps the crows were full. Perhaps they were extremely cautious. Or perhaps it was because Ryan and I were talking and laughing loud enough to alert all woodland creatures in the state of Maryland. We returned to the cabin to blast a few squirrels that had been chewing through the window screens. We searched in vain but found no squirrels. (Later, after we had put our guns away, a squirrel ran up Aunt Jana's leg, just to mock us.) Uncle Corby spied the bloodthirsty glint in our eyes and told us to flush some pigeons out of the barn and shoot them with a shotgun. We flushed them out, but I managed to miss all three pigeons that flew past me. Even though we were unable to procure the heap of vermin carcasses we wanted, we still had an enjoyable jaunt. 

Ryan took Shelby and I down to the Mennonite Historical Archives to photograph some articles for his research in the history of the Mennonites. We learned all sorts of interesting things about our Menno history, including some history of our hometown, Kalona. 

I read articles on church divisions and strife that sounded eerily similar to what our churches are currently going through, except with the issues of the 1850's, like bundling. 

The rest of the cousins and relatives went to visit Swallow Falls while Ryan and Shelby and I dug into historical files and records. Iowa is beautiful but it lacks waterfalls, so I had hoped to go see some while in Maryland. It all worked out nicely though; Ryan, Shelby and I returned to the cabin and I had a relaxing afternoon catching up on some reading. 

Saturday evening we had a wonderful potluck with Grabers and Mausts; both sides of Aunt Kris's family. We gathered in a large open pavilion just down the hill from the cabin. Scarily large quantities of food were consumed amid the joyful din of a hundred conversations. I watched one of Kris' relatives fly his fancy quad-copter around the campground. The quad-copter was equipped with a camera that captured incredible birds'-eye views of the surrounding area. The relative (I dearly wish I could remember his name, because he was very pleasant) had used the quad-copter previously at the wedding reception to get footage of the guests eating outside. While the quad-copter recorded footage from above the campground, several rounds of Spike Ball and sand volleyball were staged. Many of the youth jumped enthusiastically into the games while the rest of us sensible humans laid around the picnic tables like beached whales. I strongly believe in a 4-hour mandatory waiting period between a potluck and vigorous exercise. I nearly broke this very policy by joining a game of Spoons.  Fortunately, I was eliminated before the group decided that snatching a spoon off the table wasn't exerting enough. They decided to hide the spoons in the moonlit yard and run for them once someone had gotten four-of-a-kind. 

After the festivities died down, we packed up our belongings and prepared for the return trip. We all piled into the van at 4am on Sunday morning and arrived back in Iowa Sunday afternoon. We averaged 70mph, thanks to the plethora of Graber feet stepping on the accelerator. 

Adventures like this one are all kinds of fun. A road trip with close relatives to visit more close relatives, a fairly laid-back weekend in a beautiful forest cabin, attending a wedding, and eating far too much food. I've truly been blessed with the family God has placed me in.